How to Sell Your Crowdfunded Invention to Best Buy

Best Buy ranked 72nd on the Fortune 500 in 2014. While the electronics retailer has seen sales decline in recent years, it remains one of the largest chain stores in the United States, with $8.6 billion in enterprise revenue last quarter. That’s about $95 million per day, which makes it an important sales channel for early-stage companies, especially hardware makers.

Finding Buyers

To get onto Best Buy’s shelves, there are two things you need to know: who to contact and how to convince them. Let’s tackle who to contact. First, be glad: buyers have never been easier to contact. Many of them are on LinkedIn, where you can search by company and title. Here’s a list of senior buyers at Best Buy, for example.

Various directories, whose buyer lists can cost hundreds of dollars, also index buyers at US retailers. They have the advantage of being up-to-date, as retail buyers are in a high-churn job market:

Public libraries, especially in large cities, often carry buyer guides as reference works as well. The San Francisco Public Library, for example, allows you free access to the lists.

A final way is to meet buyers in person. Most retailers have vendor days, or buying days. The details for such days are published on their blogs and in their vendor rules. Like speed-dating, buyers will meet with potential vendors for a few minutes at a time. Some of them, like Ace Hardware, will charge money for the chance to meet.

These face-to-face meetings can be logistically challenging, but can offer priceless insights and networking.

Persuading Buyers

Let’s say you’ve found your buyer. The next thing you need to know is how to communicate with them. Remember, first of all, their goal is to make more money for their chain store, and yours should be to help them do that. This means convincing them your product serves their customers better than what they currently sell. So you need to understand their stores, their offering and their demographics, in order to reasonably say your product fits in and will drive traffic to their outlets.

An excellent piece of advice from Karen Waksman at RetailMBA is to walk the aisles of the store you’d like to be sold in. Go to the section of the store where your type of product is sold. Note the kinds of people in the store, the competing products on the shelves, and how they are packaged. Then take it one step further: buy your competitors’ products and take them home. This will come in handy when you get to the next step.

Packaging is Persuasion

Packaging may seem like a secondary consideration to entrepreneurs who spend years perfecting the product they sell. The long efforts of invention and manufacture, and the logistics of delivering a physical object to consumers around the world all seem to take priority.

However, we're here to remind you to make it a priority; people buy the idea packaging creates, not the product itself. At a chain store like Best Buy, you're competing against hundreds of products clustered in the same isle. In order to be seen, your packaging must be stand-out.

Packaging is the act of selling, crystallized. It is salesmanship in cardboard and plastic. Think of a product that stood out to you. Better yet, think of a one-time meeting with someone that was unforgettable. Make your product's introduction as sexy, fun, gutsy, and memorable as they were.

As Waksman pointed out, six things matter in packaging:

  1. Size
  2. Shape
  3. Color
  4. User-Friendliness
  5. Marketing copy
  6. Theft-Proofing

When you analyze your competitors’ packaging in Best Buy, you should take it as a reflection of what the retailer wants. This is the packaging that made the cut. To stray from it wildly would be to sabotage yourself. So buy the stuff, take its measurements and analyze according to those six aspects. Reverse engineer it. Make it.

Demographics Have First Names

Next, understand Best Buy’s customer demographics. Like all major retailers, the company has made a study of the people who shop there. By understanding their needs, you can confidently pitch your fit.

Internal documents obtained by retail blogs in 2008 contained the profiles and nicknames of the five major groups that walk through the chain store’s doors.

They include:

  • Buzz, the "Urban Trendsetter," tech-savvy, early adopting male between 23 and 30.
  • Carrie, the “Young Urban Female,” who for all we know, is dating Buzz.
  • Maria, the “Middle American Female,” who probably wants in-house installation (according to the documents).
  • Ray, the "Middle Aged Male" represents about 20 percent of all Best Buy sales.
  • Helen and Charlie, the "Empty Nester" who are probably looking for deals and shopping for gadgets to send their grandkids.

The point to note with these personas, is that you know these people. So think about them. Get inside their heads. Anticipate their likes and dislikes.

Sell Sheets

Communicating your message to chain store buyers requires more than emails and cold calls. It hinges on a single document known as a sell sheet.

A sell sheet is a one-page PDF with an image of your product, its major advantages in a few bullet points, measurements, and the purpose it serves. Your entire invention is conveyed in a few sentence fragments and one compelling photograph. Short, sweet and unmistakably clear. Show them what you offer, tell them why it’s good and give physical specs so that they can know where it will fit in the end user’s home, as well as on their shelves.

Once you know what your target sells, how they sell it, and have condensed your entire pitch to a one-page sell sheet, you contact the buyer and ask them if they would be interested. If the answer is yes, they you move on to the paperwork.

If they don’t, you either improve your pitch or seek greener pastures. As Waksman notes, there are hundreds of retailers in the United States, and most potential vendors only pay attention to the top five, which means, majority of great opportunities are overlooked. Start with the "overlooked" and prove to the larger ones that you have a market.

Once the conversation is rolling, show off a little. Tell the buyer about any media coverage you've received, how much your crowdfunding campaign generated, how much you’ve continued to sell through pre-orders, and share key customer testimonials. In a nutshell, show them you're succeeding, and have a plan to succeed regardless of their decision.

When it comes to getting into major chains like Best Buy, it’s a bit of a catch-22. The more you're customers already want you, the more senior buyers will want to help you. In saying this, it's up to you to prove your products worth. Knowledge is power, and the more you know about the store you're pitching, the louder your product will speak.

To learn more tips and tricks to get the most out of your crowdfund and pre-orders, subscribe to our blog, and follow us on twitter.