Our 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
He 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.
Maybe 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 presentation
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Understand 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.
- 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.
Right 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.