What the Heck
Sandra Velasquez is the NYC Area Sales Manager for Van Leeuwen Ice Cream as well as a sales rep for HiBAR. She teaches a monthly online class called DISTRO 101 for new and emerging brands in the CPG space.
Merchandising is the thing most new brands don’t know they’re supposed to do.
I still remember sitting at my booth at the NY Fancy Food Show many years back and my distributor at the time said, “you guys need to hire a merchandiser.”
I said, “what’s a merchandiser?”
I chuckle, because fast forward many years – now I am one and I know how critical it is to be successful on the shelf.
In a nutshell?
Merchandising is physically going to your accounts to:
✔️Make sure your product is in stock and on the shelf (don’t ever assume it is)
✔️Face your products (I can’t read your brand name if you product is backwards)
✔️Make sure your price tags are correct (especially if you are on sale)
✔️Maximize best shelf placement (I can’t find you if you are ankle level)
✔️Get reorders (no backstock?)
✔️Build store level relationships + humanize your brand
The end goal? Sales. Always remember that.
You know what product never sells at the grocery store? Air. Holes on the shelf = lost sales. When stores are reviewing their numbers annually and deciding what to discontinue, there is no “notes” column in their spreadsheet that explains why a product did or did not sell. Maybe you fell off the shelf or another brand took your space and you just never knew because you never went and checked on your product. Ouch.
Here’s the problem: most people think it is the store’s job to stock and sell their product. Isn’t that what they get paid to do all day?
No, not really.
I certainly had that assumption when I first started in this industry. Ah, blissful ignorance!
The reality is that a store like Whole Foods, which has thousands of SKU’s, the store employees cannot physically stock the shelves fast enough. Nobody in the grocery store is just sitting around. They ARE stocking the shelves, but at the end of the day nobody cares more about your brand than you.
I tell my students to think of the store as lending them their real estate so that they can sell their product. Alert: Mindset shift.
All of the biggest brands that you consider already having “made it” use merchandisers to protect their shelf space and sales by showing up and “packing out” (that’s industry speak for “stocking the shelves”).
Here’s a pic of the vendor sign in sheet at Wegmans in Brooklyn. The art of handwriting is lost these days, so let me list some of the brands that showed up that day to service their products:
✔️Van Leeuwen (that’s me!)
How much you need to merchandise depends on your product category + type of store + your location.
If you make a daily grab n’ go product like :
✔️single serve desserts (peanut butter cups)
…and your product is in Whole Foods in NYC, then you need to merchandise.
If you live in rural Washington and your product is in a small independent, you might not have to (as often).
I always remind my students of this fact: You don’t know what is happening at the store level unless you or someone from your team goes there.
Here are before and after pics from my recent trip to Kings in New Jersey. I was able to gain an entire shelf by moving another brand over and consolidating our dairy and vegan lines side by side.
Reminder: Grocery is an analog business. Like the USPS. Boots on the ground. In person. You cannot Zoom in or socially distance your merchandising. Someone has to physically go to the store, go behind the employee doors, find your product, put it on the shelf and get reorders.
My question to you is: When was the last time you visited your accounts and checked on your product?
In my DISTRO 101 class I show brands an upfront behind the scenes look at how I open accounts, what buyer and distributor conversations look like, the costs involved with engaging with chains, and so much more. All of the stuff I wish someone had told me when I first started.