Just about everyone with a great idea for a new gadget dreams of launching a new product in the mass market. It used to be a lot easier for a small company to launch new products than it is today. Years ago, a small company with a new product or idea could start with neighborhood retailers, first building a local customer base and then fanning out across the region, the nation, or the globe. But the retail landscape has changed tremendously with huge chains with thousands of outlets dominating the market today. Over the last 15 years countless small chains and independent operators have either been swallowed up by their larger rivals or just gone belly up because they couldn’t compete with the behemoths. This makes it much more difficult for small companies to launch their products because a) there are fewer retailers to approach and b) there are thousands of companies competing for the attention of fewer and fewer buyers.
Twenty years ago, trade shows could often be a cost-effective way to introduce a new product to thousands of potential buyers but like retail, the trade show industry has seen a wave of mergers, acquisitions and drop outs. A lot of the trade shows that used to cater to the small- and mid-sized operations have seen their attendance dwindle and lots of them have just disappeared entirely.
U.S.For example, the North American Men’s Sportswear Buyers (NAMSB) show used to be one of the biggest apparel trade shows in the US but now it’s gone. For years, NAMSB was the trade show that retailers of all sizes attended to check out the latest and greatest upcoming styles. It was also where some now-famous names got their start in the mass market. At a NAMSB show (many) years ago a friend wanted me to meet the owner of a new company that she knew was going to be hot. We walked up to a small booth staffed with just one guy showing off his new t-shirt designs—his name was Stussy and a year or so later his company took off. For him, the NAMSB show was the ideal springboard to success. Today though, there are fewer shows to choose from and they’re a lot more expensive, making them a bigger gamble. So if you’re thinking about doing a trade show you’d best be prepared to do your homework, invest some money and do it right or you’ll be setting yourself up for failure.
What does this mean to a small business with a great product or idea? What it means is that yes, it can be tough to launch a new product in the mass market but it also means that a company can hit the big time a lot faster today than in the past. So what is the secret to selling to Wal-Mart or other large retailers? For the novice, the answer is that there is no easy answer—launching a product in the mass market is not for the faint of heart but it can be done. The answer lies in doing your homework:
- Know your business—how are you going to produce the product and how will you distribute it? Do you have the capacity (production and financial) to meet the demands of the mass market?
- Know your product—what sets your product apart from the competition? What makes it unique? What is its special appeal?
- Know your retailer—where does your product fit in the store and how are you going to display it? Research your target vendors—what are they looking for in new products? What is their process for reviewing new vendors?
- Know your customer—who is going to buy your product and why are they going to buy it?
- Know your marketing plan—how are you going to get the word out about your product to your customers?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help prepare you and your company for successfully launching your new product in the mass market.