Building relationships with retailers is like running an ultra-marathon. - SKUFood
Sharing is Caring
  • You are here:
  • Home »
  • SKUBlog »

Building relationships with retailers is like running an ultra-marathon.

Building relationships with retailers is like running an ultra-marathon.

Full disclosure I have never run an ultra-marathon. Actually I have never run any marathon at all, a few 10K but that is it. I do have friends who have done it, so I think it is a great analogy for the work you have to do to develop a relationship with a retailer.

An ultra-marathon is a minimum of 50 km through very challenging conditions. Here are a few if you are interested:

One difference between an actual ultra-marathon and your customer relationships is they have a finish line, you do not. It just keeps moving as your business evolves with your customer.

Do your research

If you decide to run one of these races you will have to do a lot of research. You need to know what you will be facing and also how to prepare properly. As you work with customers you need to do research to understand them. This includes the overall business and the people who are the key decision makers.

You should be watching media articles and trade publications to stay up to date on their positions and see where they are putting emphasis. You can also visit stores to assess what is getting space and focus on their signage. This is how they choose to go to market and good suppliers support this positioning.

The key decision makers are all people. People are different. A category manager at one retailer will be different than the person in the same role somewhere else. You can learn about them on LinkedIn, from other suppliers and when you are talking to them. We recommend you keep a profile of each so you know what they are interested in and some key points you might want to mention at future meetings.

Develop a plan

Even if you are in shape, you cannot just show up for an ultra-marathon. You need to develop a plan to ensure you can get to the finish line. Your relationship with customers is the same. Be proactive and decide what you should be doing when.

Good suppliers look at the entire year to build a promotion plan and create demand for your products. Do not wait for opportunities from your category managers. This is your job, not theirs. You might not get everything you want but you need to figure out what is best for your business and try to get these plans in place.

Even the best plans can go off the rails sometimes. In our world this includes service level issues, food safety problems, recalls or other issues that will erode your relationships. Part of your plan should include some contingencies for these issues. You need to be prepared to communicate and let them know what you are doing to fix the problem.

Practice to get in shape

Running the big race requires an incredible amount of practice. It amazes me the commitment people have to build up their level of fitness. Hours of running and changing their diet to get their body ready. You might not need to dedicate this many hours and eat considerable amount of protein but you do need to prepare.

Delivering presentations and managing this relationship is not always easy for people. A presentation to a category manager needs to be strategic and designed to accomplish specific objectives. It is not a commercial for your product. You need to illustrate to them what you will be doing to create demand and ensure your products sell.

The introduction and the conclusion to your retailer meetings are very important. You can practice these and record yourself on your phone. We know, it isn’t that much fun watching yourself. It is a great way to learn and see how you can improve. I have the opportunity to speak at many conferences and events. I practice and I do watch myself to see how it comes across.

Think about the relationship and what you want to accomplish. You will not accomplish everything in face to face meetings. Establish the most effective forms of communication to fill the gaps.

Pace yourself

I am sure many of us have experienced the realization you might have come off the starting line too quickly. Perhaps it was a grade 6 field day race and not an ultra-marathon, but it is a bad feeling. You feel so good at the start you just fly and then all of a sudden, you run out of gas and others start passing you.

Your relationship with customers is very similar. You know your business and what the plans are. We would not advise telling them everything in the first meeting. You need reasons to talk to them down the road. If your objective in the first meeting is to get listed focus on that. You might have plans to reduce food waste in your business, which is great, but save it for the next meeting. If it is not going to help you get on the shelf, make it the topic of the next meeting.

We see so many examples where suppliers put all of their cards on the table. Your customer will expect more next time so if you tell them everything you will be repeating yourself or perhaps, they will not make the time at all because there is nothing new to talk about.

Set rewards for milestones

If I were running an ultra-marathon, I would set certain milestones along the route where I would give myself a reward. Perhaps after so many kilometers I can have a drink or an energy gel. This would keep me going.

Consider the following milestones in your customer relationships:

Listings-getting on the shelf is a huge accomplishment.

Service level-a big priority for retailers and should be for you too. Set quarterly targets for your business.

Sales targets-meeting and exceeding sales is huge and remember to share this with your customers too.

Accurate forecasts-it is tough to forecast numbers in this business. When you put in the work and get relatively close that helps your entire business.

These are accomplishments across your business, not just sales. When you all celebrate the milestones, they understand how important they are in the relationship with your customers.

This has nothing to do with selling more food and beverage, but did you know the word milestones comes from the Romans? They selected certain points along routes to carve in stone the distance they were from Rome, so they could track their journeys.

When you approach these relationships like and ultra-marathon, where the finish line keeps moving you have such a better chance for success. It is hard work, but it can pay big dividends when you do it right.


SKUFood Recipes for Success Podcast

We are super excited to announce we have launched our SKUFood Recipes for Success podcast. We have been working on this project for a while and it is finally ready to share with all of you. Our intention is to share the stories of food businesses and others in the value chain while also providing insights that are interesting and helpful to people in the food and beverage industry.

In this episode, we're privileged to sit down with Eric, a seasoned leader with four decades of experience in the food and beverage industry.

With thirty-three years on the retail side, Eric has honed his skills in distribution center operations, health and safety, process improvement, and more. His diverse expertise spans from quality assurance to procurement, bringing a wealth of knowledge to the table.

But Eric's journey doesn't stop there. For seven years, he's lent his talents to the supplier side, excelling in sales and marketing roles. His contributions extend beyond individual companies, as he's actively involved in industry organizations like the CPMA and CFIA advisory board, where he's made a lasting impact.

Currently the Director of Sales and Business Development at Algoma Orchards, Canada's largest independent apple grower, Eric continues to shape the future of the produce industry.

Join us as Eric shares his insights, lessons learned, and the secrets to cultivating success in this ever-evolving field. Whether you're a seasoned professional or just starting out, this episode is sure to leave you with a recipe for success.

Listen and subscribe where ever you get your podcasts.

Where is Peter Speaking?

New line of private label at Walmart

There are two reasons retailers commit space to private label in their stores; to generate higher margins and to keep shoppers loyal. The margin discussion is a bit cloudy as they do see a higher margin on the shelf, but they forget about the marketing money they spend to build the brands. The loyalty conversation is definitely a factor. When a retailer gets consumers hooked on their products they have to go back to that particular store.

Loblaw and Sobeys both have premium lines in their private label offering. Walmart are now entering this segment of the private label game. It does make sense for them.