POV: You're an Amazi fan. You walk into your local grocery store. They don't carry Amazi. You request Amazi...... and then you wait. and wait. and wait. What gives!?
Before I started Amazi, I had no idea what it took to get products to shelves. Believe it or not, it is a JOURNEY to get on the shelf. In honor of our recent launch to 107 Ralphs locations, we figured we'd offer a sneak peek behind the scenes as to what goes into landing new grocery stores. Ralphs, in particular, has been our hardest launch to date, and item set up took us over 4-5 months.
One note before I dive in - don't let this discourage you from requesting Amazi on shelves! Your requests speed up the process, and help us show buyers that Amazi deserves a place in stores. Thank you to everyone who helps us - whether asking in store, submitting a form, or filling out our online request form. It means the world to us.
While some smaller independently owned stores can bring in products at any time, most chains have what's called a "Category Review." They will set an annual calendar for when they're reviewing each set of the store - snacks, dried fruit, yogurt, jerkies... One of the first steps is finding out when this review is, which can be a process depending on your relationship with the buyer. If you miss your review, *sometimes* stores can do a cut-in if your product is a killer, but otherwise, better luck next year.... you might have to wait another 12 months!
Once you find out when it's time to review your products, you craft your pitch. I'm a big believer of personal relationships whenever pitching an account. I rarely just copy paste an email, and do my best to connect with the buyer via LinkedIn or via a referral whenever possible. From there, I'll share what makes Amazi compelling, ensuring that we're conveying the value we can add to the shelf, and WHY we're a great fit for that store in particular. Sometimes that involves sharing data throughout the process on how we move at similar accounts, # of requests we have in that region (hence why you should always keep requesting!), how we align from a values perspective, or consumer research that might open up conversation. As with any sales process, it takes a few months from pitch to green light.
The Paperwork + The Planogram
Ever wonder how all Sprouts look the same? Or how you can always expect to find your favorite pretzels in a certain slot on the shelf? That all comes from the planogram. Most chains design their stores from the corporate level, and it becomes a game of real estate. We as brands have to submit samples and paperwork - breaking down the specs of each product (the dimensions, weight, cost, etc.). Beyond just evaluating how much they like your product, buyers have to take into consideration where you will fit on the shelf, as well as how much $$$ you will bring them through your slot (I'm not going to go into slotting fees and promotions, but your promotional offerings are a large part of the game, too!). Oftentimes, this also entails setting up items with universal inventory systems as well that buyers outsource (IX-One, being one of them).
Most larger retailers will require you work with a distributor. Distributors are the middlemen, essentially, taking care of actually delivering the products to the stores. The reason buyers use them is to consolidate - imagine if all Whole Foods buyers ordered products one by one, from every single brand. That would be a LOT of management. Instead, they go to a distributor for all of their deliveries at one time. Distributors plan demand for all of the retailers they serve, and warehouse products in once place. If you haven't yet worked with a distributor, the demand from a retailer will often allow you to be pulled in (which in turn starts an entirely separate process of paperwork and on-boarding, up to 2 months time).
The review period often has a corresponding reset. This is the week when all stores will "reset" the category in question. They'll redo the chip section and make room for that new bag. You'll often see a July review for an October reset. And typically, it takes a week or so for all store teams to merchandise and get through this process.
Boy did we have a LOT of lessons here over the years. Even when you think you've dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's, things still come up. Whether it's a mistake in merchandising, a delay in transportation, a clerical error that leads to a weight discrepancy with the distributors, and most recently, a crazy issue where the Ralphs system wasn't communicating with our item set up at our distributors (which we are STILL hashing out).
It's a consistently humbling, and often frustrating, process when all we want to do is bring Amazi to you and support our retailers. But you can trust that we are working HARD to increase transparency where we can, and learning a lot to expedite our launches to new shelves.
Did you already know all this stuff? Any questions about store launches? We'd love to share more!