How To Get Your Product Into Stores

It’s common nowadays to launch your product on Kickstarter or a Shopify store, but neither of those options were really around when I launched Po Campo in 2009. Getting our bags in physical stores was our main sales strategy when we were starting out.

That first summer, Po Campo was available in about a dozen stores in Chicago, which was a good start and we really have just built on that. One of the most common questions I get is “how do I get my product in stores?”. Well, this is how I did it!


Step One: Make a List of Stores to Approach
I made a list of about 20 shops that I thought Po Campo would be a good fit in, based on where I and my friends liked to shop, since we were my intended consumer. I also thought about which brands were complementary to Po Campo, in terms of style and pricepoint, found out where they were locally being sold and added those stores to the list. Small, independent shops are much easier to cold-call and get into than larger chains, so start there.

Step Two: Research
Before you start walking into stores, do some research on how to build out your sales program with wholesale pricing, minimums and terms. To find this information out, I asked store owners and other product companies about what they do. I have found people to be very helpful and forthcoming with this information, so don’t feel weird about asking. Specifically:

  • What is your wholesale price? This can vary by product category and industry. For bags like mine, the wholesale price is half of the retail price (this is called keystone).
  • What is your minimum opening order? Is there a minimum reorder? This is usually based on a quantity (e.g. minimum of 10 pcs) or a dollar amount (e.g. minimum of $500). Based on my research, I chose to do a minimum starting order of 6 pieces, so enough to make a decent Po Campo display but not too much to make it seem like a big commitment for a small shop, who doesn’t want extra inventory lying around with no place to store it. We don’t have a reorder minimum because we want our retailers to feel free to place special orders for customers.
  • What are your payment terms? The basic options here are:
    • Due on receipt (pay right away). The faster you can get paid, the better. Our first orders were pretty small (less than $300), so most shops were okay with starting out this way. You can use Square or PayPal to take credit cards right away; the ease of credit cards more than makes up for the cut the credit card companies takes, in my opinion.
    • Net 30 (pay in 30 days). This is pretty standard but I suggest doing a credit check before you give anyone product as it is practically impossible to get it back if they don’t pay. Old school credit checks require the store to first fill out a credit application, then you contact their references to see how good they are about paying on time. The process feels antiquated (although effective), so now Po Campo uses Cortera, which costs money but is quicker.
    • Consignment (pay when the product sells). Small shops love this because it is essentially risk-free for them but that puts all the risk on you, plus it is a pain in the butt to manage. Therefore, I wouldn’t even offer this option and focus your attention on stores with enough cash to buy the product outright.


Step Three: Build Your Materials
Put together a (preferably one page) line sheet with:

  • Product drawing or photo with item number, dimensions, brief description, color options (if any)
  • Retail and wholesale price
  • Minimum order amount
  • Order deadline
Older 2010 line sheet on left, latest 2015 line sheet on right
Older 2010 line sheet on left, latest 2015 line sheet on right

I’ve found that it is immensely helpful to have a sample with you, even if it isn’t perfect. Samples about 90% of the way there are good enough.

A lookbook or catalog is nice but not necessary when you are just starting out. At this stage, you are the best representation of your brand. Introducing your product in person does more to sell your brand than a lookbook ever could.

Step Four: Start Selling
You’re ready to start going door-to-door! This is great practice for honing your pitch and learning how to clearly communicate the most interesting aspects of your product/brand. Practice makes perfect, so don’t be hard on yourself if your first visits are clunky. Here’s what I did:

  1. Find the owner/buyer and ask for a few minutes of her time, or schedule a time to come back. You’ll really only need 5-10 minutes.
  2. In a few (rehearsed) sentences, tell her about your brand and why you designed the product the way you did. Let her play around with the sample, answer her questions, go over the items on the line sheet.
  3. If she seems interested, ask for the sale by saying something like “Can I get an order going for you?”. It may seem a little confrontational, but trust me, it’s necessary. Few people will just say, “This is great, I’ll take 10!”.
  4. Leave your line sheet behind, maybe with your business card stapled to it, so she has a concrete memento of your visit. Get her email address and send her an email later that day to thank her for her time and to confirm her order or suggest an order based on what you talked about.

And if she says she’s not interested? You have to train yourself to hear “not yet” whenever you hear “no”. Jot down why she said no (might just be timing or wrong color) so you know when to go back to her in the future. Then move on to the next store on your list.

Okay, that’s it! In some ways it feels like a numbers game, in that you’ll get a new customer for every 4 qualified stores (or whatever) that you visit. Try to make your pitch a little better every time by listening to questions people have and noticing what they are responding to, both positively and negatively.

Good luck and share your experiences!


4 Tips for Surviving Trade Shows as an Introvert

I’ve found doing trade shows to be a necessary evil for growing Po Campo wholesale accounts. You get great exposure and there’s good potential for sales, yet they are expensive, time-consuming and exhausting – especially for introverts.

A key defining characteristic of introverts is that we refuel with alone time, whereas extroverts refuel by being around people. That means that the lucky extroverts get more and more energy as the day at a trade show wears on, while us unfortunate introverts are stumbling across the finish line by the time the show wraps.

Last week Po Campo was at its 10th trade show, the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City. With each show that we do, I hone my strategies for the best ways to survive them and get the most out of them. Here are my four tips for how to survive a trade show as an introvert:

1) Skip unnecessary social events (and don’t feel bad about it). People will tell you over and over that at the after show parties is where the real business gets done. Regardless, I know I am physically unable to work a 9 hour show and follow that up with mingling and drinking with strangers for another six hours, especially if I have to be back at the booth the following day at 9am at full strength. So I skip the parties. The difference this time around was that I didn’t feel bad about it. You have to know your limitations and respect them.
Side note: Often the industry parties right after the show have free food and drinks. If you’re like me and always looking to save a dime, go to the party just long enough to get a free dinner and then head out.

2) Plan your alone time to let yourself refuel. I used to think I could just muscle through a trade show, but inevitably I would run out of energy and ask a neighbor to watch my booth while I sat in a bathroom stall for 15 minutes to recharge. That’s no fun, so this time around, I planned ahead. I got up early to have a few hours of “Maria time” before showing up at the booth at 9am, enabling me to start the day fully charged and ready for action. I scheduled friends or sales reps to relieve me for 90 minutes every day at some point for a break. After the show, I would have dinner with a friend or go shopping for an hour or two before returning back home by 9pm to read or watch TV. Knowing when my escapes were helped me endure the longer stretches and be at my best for longer amounts of time.

3) Don’t talk to everyone. The common wisdom is that you should enthusiastically greet everyone that walks by and invite them into your booth to check out your wares. If you don’t act like this, people will tell you that you should. That’s simply not me, though, and nothing tires me out more than that kind of behavior. Instead, I smile at everyone I make eye contact with and if their eyes linger on my merchandise, I will jump into the pitch. If not, I don’t say anything. My reasoning is that I want to give the best version of myself to the people most likely to become customers and if I’m worn out from chatting with every person that walks by, that won’t happen.

4) Team up with an extrovert. Having an extrovert in the booth will relieve you of a ton of pressure to talk to people. Many extroverts actually like working at these types of events so finding a volunteer is pretty easy; I just post something on Facebook and offer a free bag in exchange for her time. However, be warned that if the show is slow, the extrovert will just talk to you instead, exposing you to the same small talk that you had hoped to escape. To play it safe, I usually only have my extrovert in the booth during the busy hours and then dismiss her when it quiets down, saying “I got it from here”. The busy times at trade shows seem to be between 10am – 3pm, although each show has its own rhythms.

If you’re an introvert, I would love to hear your strategies for surviving (and thriving) during trade shows. As Po Campo grows, I foresee more and more of them in the future, and there’s nothing I’d like more than looking forward to them rather than dreading them.

How to Increase Online Sales: Part 1

Every year I say I want to increase our online sales because, like all manufacturers, we make mad margins on products sold through our online store, which in turn improves our cash flow and bottom line. While our online sales have grown steadily year after year, for 2014, I intend to make a concerted effort to grow them more aggressively. How will I do that? Good question! I’m not entirely sure but thought I could use this blog as a way to share my journey as I go and hopefully help you shortcut the process.

So, for some background info, my goal is to increase our online sales by about 38% to cover the majority of our overhead expenses. It seems ambitious, but I believe it is doable if I put a solid plan together of how that will happen. 

Basic business education tells us that there are generally three ways to increase sales:

  1. Sell more to existing customers
  2. Find new customers
  3. Raise prices (or decrease costs)

I want to consider working on all three things but we need to do some research first.

How do we get our sales today?
My first thought is to try and understand what’s been working so far. I generate the “Sales by Traffic Source” report from Shopify (our e-commerce platform) for 2013 to see where most of our purchasers are coming from and find out that the vast majority of traffic comes from, meaning most people go to our homepage before clicking into the store. Not terribly insightful. Next, I go to Google Analytics to dig deeper into how people end up on our homepage. (Disclaimer: I am definitely a Google Analytics novice, which means you may find better information elsewhere. However, being an entrepreneur means you spend time everyday figuring out something new, which is what I’m doing here)

Since I’m most interested in sales, I go to the conversions menu first, expand “Ecommerce” and check out our conversion rate and average order value, among other things. I plan to use these values for benchmarking our progress as we grow. Next, I click on “Time to Purchase”, also under Ecommerce. Here I find out that 88% of our visitors are purchasing on the same day that they are coming to our site and that 81% are purchasing on their first visit! This suggests to me that when people come to our site, they have already decided that they want to buy.  To confirm that, I then opened up “Multi-Channel Funnels” and peek at “Path Length”. Yep, 70% of conversions have only one path, meaning the purchaser only clicked on one thing before coming to our store to buy, or just plain typed our URL into their browser window. While I like the thought of people exploring us on the web by searching through Google or whatnot, that apparently is not happening. 

I’m curious what the first (and only) path is, so next I go to Acquisition>Channels and change the Conversions option to “Ecommerce”. Here I learn that Google is responsible for about 22% of both my traffic and online sales. The direct channel, most likely meaning people typing our URL directly into their browser, accounts for 19% of traffic and 27% of sales. Facebook comes in third place with 4% of traffic and 2% of sales. Our Mailchimp newsletter shows up towards the bottom of the list which surprises me because it seems like we always get a bunch of orders whenever we send out a newsletter. I suspect that some of the direct sales are from these newsletters and make a note to check our Mailchimp settings to make sure clicks are being tracked properly.

It’s now obvious that people have already decided that they want to buy a bag from us by the time they come to our site and that they are coming to our site from Google or just directly. If from Google, what words are they searching to find us? I go to Acquisition>Keywords>Organic to find out. Most are irksomely not provided, but there are a lot of variations of our brand name. So even if our consumers come to our website from Google, they already knew that they want Po Campo!

Okay, so it’s clear that people who purchase from our online store come to our website with the intent to buy and don’t dilly-dally. But do they come knowing which bag they want to buy, or do they just know they want a Po Campo bag and browse around a little first? To find out, I go to Audience>Overview and see that most visitors see about four of our pages before leaving. That hints at a little browsing and I’m interested which four pages people are going to most often, as well as the sequence of those pages. In Behavior>Behavior Flow, I sort by “Converters” and see that half of all traffic visits our homepage first. After that, most people go to the Bike Bags category, then to a specific bag, then to Cart. Sometimes after that third step, they go back and look at a different bag or look at a video. However, it does seem that people are coming to the site with a specific bag in mind.

Lesson 1: Our current customers know Po Campo well
Based on my first go at Google Analytics research, it seems safe to say that our sales are coming from people already very familiar with Po Campo. Therefore, it seems the best place to start is to figure out how to sell more to our current customers. See Part 2 for that.

Did I make any mistakes in my usage of Google Analytics? Set me straight in the comments below.