Photography | Portraits: Ryan Pyke, Product: Scott Ehler
While studying at university to be a primary school teacher, Mia McCarthy tinkered around with making bircher muesli after spotting a gap in the market for her favourite brekkie. Since then, she’s gone from home kitchen to commercial factory, turnover has increased 1000 per cent in the last six months and now her products are stocked on supermarket shelves. While she maintains she “got really lucky” when a Woolworths buyer spotted her at a trade show, there’s no denying the serendipitous moment has come with hard work.
“I work way harder with stock in the supermarkets than I ever did when I was manufacturing it myself,” she admits. “You need to be constantly on top of orders, stock and forecasts.”
Here’s how to do just that:
THE MEETING: COME PREPARED
You will need to take the products (obviously). Maybe the cartons if you are up to that stage. It’s very important to take past history as well as future projections. However, projections are often exactly that – just a projection. Show them how you plan on achieving those sales and why you think they’re achievable. Take some back-up information the buyer can keep: any media articles, sales history, etc. Also give them a plan of what’s to come and how you’re going to educate customers about your product. For example, “We have this promotional plan organised. We are handing out this many samples to a reach of x [people].”
When a product gets listed, you need to register as a buyer. Individual product and pricing forms need to be sent through. At this stage you’ll need to know carton dimensions and product sizing, so if it gets listed it can fit in with the new planogram [shelving layout]. Generally they’ll want to see the site, go through QA [quality assurance] procedures and ensure you’re able to meet demand. Manufacturing facilities will have an in-house QA department, which is expected to work closely with the buying QA team. The buyer will be able to see you can meet demand through your business pipeline. Keep them up-to-date with packaging orders (delays), and the quantity (output) that the facility can produce.
HELP A BUYER OUT
At the end of the day, the buyers want your product to generate sales so their category succeeds. So find out what they’re looking for and help them to achieve this. They will also be looking for speed-to-market. You need to be prepared to be on shelves when the new planogram comes out. So they’re looking for your timeline. This is really hard as it depends on the product – does it need registering, are there packaging delays, manufacturing machinery (do you need anything new)? Generally the packaging can take up to 10 weeks! Also maintain open communication with the buyers – often there are things that need talking about, or it’s sometimes good to check in to see how products are going (usually via email or phone calls). If something goes wrong, don’t wait for them to contact you, contact them as soon as you’re aware.
GETTING IT ON THE SHELVES
You need to understand what supermarkets are after and form a mode for getting stock onto shelves. Sometimes they’ll require delivery direct to store or if volumes are large enough they may offer you a spot in their distribution centre. This means you need to ship pallets direct into an allocated supermarket distribution centre and the supermarket takes care of delivery into shops. It makes the orders a lot easier. When I first started delivery to supermarkets we did our own. I used to borrow a van and drive to shops myself (my mum used to come along to direct!). Have pre-packaging ready: cartons, pallet dimensions, etc. This is extremely important when sending stock in through the supermarkets.
LEARN BEFORE YOU LEAP
[When searching for a factory] firstly, try to establish if there is a market for your product before you do large manufacturing runs. Make lots and lots of phone calls. When you get through to a factory that is unable to help, ask if they know of anyone who may be able to help. Find out minimum order runs, where will it be stored, under what conditions, how will it get onto shelves?
STAY OPEN AND FLUID
Personal relationships are very important with your manufacturers. They have to understand where you’re coming from and what you want to achieve. Similarly, you need to understand they’re also running a business and have a different set of restraints. By maintaining an open dialogue, you can hopefully build a successful working relationship. Manufacturers take a risk as well when they start producing your product, so it’s nice to know that they are prepared to believe in it.
CASH FLOW IS KEY
Have adequate cash flow. Supermarkets will order big and then there is a payment delay (it is usually end of month plus terms). You need to have the funds to survive between the first order and first pay cheque!