15 Tips to Securing Product Distribution in National Retail Chains

Question: How can a small business owner/inventor get their product into retail stores, particularly national retail chains?

Question by: Winifred

Develop a Retail Pitch Plan

"Gain access to national retail chains by developing a quick and dirty retail list of stores you'd like to approach. First, make sure that your product aligns with their current merchandising plans. Reach out to buyers and distributors and share a pitch package that includes a cover letter, press kit and product samples. "

- Erica Nicole | Founder and CEO, YFS Magzine
Get Straight to the Point!

"Buyers from national retail chains will only give you a limited time to pitch your product, so it is imperative to be well prepared with a concise presentation. Skip the storytelling and get straight to the point. Provide critical data on your products: price points, product warranties, manufacturing capabilities and consumer data."


Brand Yourself

"One of the best ways to get into national chains is to build a solid following via social media before you ever go in for your first meeting with the national retail chain. Make a name for yourself so they know your brand equity before you even step foot in their building. Then develop a solid pitch letter which includes links to your recent press hits and customize it to that chain."

- Kris Ruby | President, Ruby Media Group

Sell to Independents

"Start small and sell at independent shops and even lots of web shops. The more exposure and sales you get, the more legitimacy you create for your product. That way, you can approach the big retailers and say, "I sell 10,000 widgets a day, perhaps you'd like to sell them too?""

- Danny Wong | Co-Founder, Advisor and Lead Evangelist, Blank Label
Befriend the Gatekeepers

"Networking is the fastest path into tight-knit, highly competitive markets, and there is nothing that gets attention faster than a personal introduction. Sometimes, decision-makers are easier to reach than you might expect and may only be one or two levels removed from you. Use LinkedIn and other platforms to discover how your contacts can help you into the gatekeeper's center of attention."

- Kent Healy | Founder and CEO, The Uncommon Life

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

"Start off with growing your business and building your brand, get the product into enough local stores before going national. Make sure your business is ready for the large margins and low volumes they will demand from you just to be in a "national" store. Once you feel your company can support that structure, work through regional managers and then continue to work your way up the ladder."

- Jerry Piscitelli | Owner / Inventor, Portopong LLC

Hire a Sales Representative

"As a small business owner, chances are that you are already strapped for time and resources. Find a salesperson who has a track record (and the relationships!) to get products in stores. Use LinkedIn Advanced Search to find the right sales person. Look for someone who has experience in your industry and feels strongly about your product."


Try, Try Again

"Every industry and product is different, but those with persistence consistently have better odds of success. Try every angle, meet every person possible who can help you succeed and I promise you, your passion will be rewarded eventually."

Learn Their Business Before Pitching Yours

"Visit the stores, see what they already carry and identify the exact place where your product would fit — both in terms of marketing and actual placement. In your first outreach to the buyer, explain which store you have been to, what problem you can solve for her with your product and the easiest way for her to make it fit in her selling area. Doing so shows that working with you is easy!"

Guarantee Success

"Tell stores you'll guarantee sales — it is no risk for them by letting you go in there and demonstrating it until your product sells out. Start with one store, sell it out, go to the second, etc. It's important to build that buzz and confidence with the retailers so they then invest in you by pushing the product themselves into the other stores."

Connect with the Right Distributor

"Distributors already have relationships with the large retailers, so put them to work for you by using their relationships to place your products. Large retailers don't like to waste time — they want someone who knows the system. Find a distribution partner who understands what type of customer you are targeting and has the relationships with retailers that serve your target market."

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Be Unique and Different

"I was able to get into national retail chains with my first business because I had something no one else had: we sold customized sports apparel. We knew what the market wanted, and since they were our custom designs, they were only able to buy them from our company. "

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads  #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.

About YEC

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

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