4 Essential Steps to Winning with Buyers in a Product Line Review

Do you approach a line review as a chance to throw products at the buyer and see what sticksDo you approach a line review as a chance to throw products at the buyer and see what sticks?

In his recent blog, The Successful Big Box Line Review, Whizard Strategy’s Mark Mitchell tells building product manufacturer’s that instead of fearing a product line review, they should see them “as an opportunity to set yourself apart from your competitors.” Great advice for manufacturers but it’s only half the story.

In a line review, understanding what the merchant needs to win is as critical as to why you think you’re the best solution.

Are you just another product pitch to the buyer?

Are you just another product pitch to the buyer?Sadly, too many buyers tell me that what they want is someone who understands their challenges. Not another product pitch.

Like you, they have goals to grow the business. To do more with less.

And, whatever their decisions, they have to successfully sell them to the leadership team. Which means not only do you have to deliver a compelling product proposition, you have to arm your merchant with the trends, data and research to show how and why what you believe possible, is possible.

Buyers want answers to these four questions in a product line review

Buyers want answers to these four questions in a product line reviewThese four points look easy and sound intuitive but they are tough to do. It takes time and preparation to answer each fully. And although they sound expensive – and can be – they really don’t need a lot of investment to do.

  1. Educate me on the market: who’s winning and who’s losing in the category – and why. Help me learn how to think about the category and my role in it.
  2. How do consumers shop the category? What’s important to them and why. Help me see product trends and show me how I can take advantage of them.
  3. What I need is newness and freshness. My shoppers are looking for me to offer innovative project solutions. They are coming to my store with a to-do list that I need to be able to completely satisfy. That means having innovation as well as basics. (It wouldn’t hurt if I could be exclusive or at least have a head start.)
  4. Help me be successful. Sure I have to increase comps but that may not be my biggest driver. It may be inventory or margin. How I get there is balancing many pieces across the entire department. Like you I don’t have unlimited resources.

Just because you educate your buyer doesn’t mean you are going to win

Buyers want answers to these four questions in a product line reviewLet’s be honest. If you come to me with research, insights and good analytics, you are arming me to be able to defend my decisions. It’s a good chance that you’ll see trends early and have products that reflect them. That helps me but it doesn’t guarantee placement. I often need to prove something works.

Your competitors all want the shelf space. They are telling me how you come up short and highlight where they are strong. Maybe they have a better brand name or maybe they’re willing to be own brand. Your approach isn’t always the best or only approach and selling harder isn’t the answer.

More importantly, I know that too much change is equally dangerous. I’m stuck with old inventory, my shoppers are confused and I don’t see growth. Testing is my way of building a fact-based case. So don’t push me constantly for more stores (or more test, for that matter).

Bottom line? Manufactures need to educate their buyers with facts – not offer phrases like “I think, I hope and I believe” – to demonstrate that they are the category innovator and partner the retailer needs to take sales and profitability to the next level.

Good Selling!


What’s Wrong with Lowe’s and Home Depot?

What’s Wrong with Lowe’s and Home DepotOur friend, Mark Mitchell, is a whizard at helping building materials companies solve their tough sales & marketing problems.  Like us, he shares his views on how to win in the marketplace with his Whizard Strategy Blog.

Not too long ago he wrote a post on What’s Wrong with Big Boxes?  He points out that big box retailers like Lowe’s and Home Depot are playing not to lose – instead of playing to win – and that is creating opportunity for you to shine in your sales and marketing efforts.

He starts his blog off by saying: “If the goal is to maximize sales, margins and customer satisfaction, there’s a lot wrong.  There’s a lot of missed opportunity for both big boxes and building product manufacturers.  Anytime someone is as successful as big boxes are, they start to avoid risk and blind spots develop.  This results in big boxes settling for growth that is lower than what’s possible in category after category – including yours.”

Gaps that seem as obvious as the nose on your face

as obvious as the nose on your faceHe shares eight glaring gaps that seem as obvious as the nose on your face.  Of course, these blind spots are all opportunities for you to capitalize on and help grow their sales while growing yours as well.

He wraps up with: “If you change your mentality from “those big box stores are killing me” to “how can I change the game by growing their business”, you will be rewarded with more sales, new product placement and, ultimately, higher margins.”


Be sure to also check out the Channel Instincts post 5 Tips to Succeed with Big Boxes for more tips on how to win with Lowe’s and Home Depot.

5 Tips to Succeed with Big Boxes

5-Tips to Succeed with Big Box HomecentersMaybe you already sell either Lowe’s or The Home Depot or both. Maybe you eat channel conflict for breakfast. But it’s been my experience that the continuous competitive clash between orange and blue is something that is tough for many manufacturers’ to figure out.

Selling one or both of the home center big boxes is a great way to drive volume.  Each, however, works hard to differentiate themselves from one another.  That makes it had to sell both of them when you have a commodity category.  But it’s still possible to do this without being a major consumer brand.

To sell a big box chain, you need to think and act like a big consumer brand – not spend like one

You do have to think and act like one of the big brands. That means not being a product expert alone, but a marketer who’s expert at driving the business (see the Channel Instincts post Are You a Marketer or Just a Product Expert?).

5 tips to help you win in a big box product buyer presentation5-tips to sell both Lowe's and Home Depot

  1. Do your homework. Visit the stores in both chains. Know what the competitive products are and how they’re merchandised and priced. Talk to the associates and department manager of your category.  Find out what’s working and why. And ask about what kinds of issues they are seeing. You may be able to uncover a pain point that will resonate with a buyer.
  2. Be the expert in your category. Pitching your product is almost the least important part of your discussions with buyers. Instead, you need to be clear that you know what’s going on in your category and have unique insights that will help the big boxes driver sales. Don’t walk in with secondary research and expect to get taken seriously. You’ll need primary research to really get attention.
  3. Have a marketing plan, not a sales pitch. Be a partner for growth. Share how you are going to create excitement for your category with your product and brand plan. Be able to clearly differentiate your product from everyone else. In other words, answer the question of “why should I switch?” If you can, show how you will bring them innovation or exclusivity (maybe in the form of a head start). By the way, exclusivity always comes with reciprocation.
  4. What’s Wrong with Lowe’s and Home DepotUnderstand the needs of their shopper. Lowe’s and Home Depot are not alike! You must dial in on how you are going to meet the shopper’s needs. For example, the pro makes up around 40% of big box home center sales – how are you reaching the pro? What about the DIY-er and DIFM groups? If you don’t know what these terms mean (“do it yourself” and “do it for me”), you’re not ready for your meeting yet.
  5. Getting on the shelf is only a first step. Now you have to show you can drive sales off the shelf. You need to have more than a lower price. You need a promotion plan that will get you featured in a tab with secondary placement. You also will need a powerful package design that is compelling as a silent salesman. Because finding an associate isn’t easy and they know even less about new brands and products.

Sell Lowe's and Home Depot SuccessfullyRight product + right price + right sales team = Success

I don’t want to oversimplify the competitive nature of selling into a big box account successfully. It takes a unique combination of the right product at the right price. Having the right sales team is critical as well.

But it will all fall apart if you do all those things right and don’t have a strong plan for driving the buyer’s metrics for growing the category.

Good Selling!