November 18, 2013

Getting your product on the shelves of major retailers

Five years ago, Daniel Flynn dreamed of changing the world by selling bottled water to Australians. Today, his Thankyou products are sold in Australia’s leading supermarkets and helping thousands of people in need. It’s an inspiring story of hard work and persistence.

Daniel Flynn, co-founder of Thankyou Water, an award-winning social enterprise, shares insights on how to grow your business by getting your product on the shelves of major retailers. 

At 19 years of age, Daniel Flynn persuaded a group of friends that they could fund life-changing projects around the world by selling bottled water in Australia. Five years on, Daniel has been named Victorian Young Australian of the Year and the Thankyou range of water, food and body care products is stocked by Australia’s leading retailers, with every sale helping people in need.

“We began with the water and our goal from day one was to reach a mass market,” says Flynn, co-founder and Managing Director of Thankyou Group. “But first we needed some runs on the board.”

Any hopes that a compelling story would smooth the path were quickly dashed. “We targeted the kinds of independent cafés and shops that attract trend-setters and influencers, but getting in there was a lot harder than we expected,” Flynn explains.  “And every one of the larger retailers we approached in the first three years said no. It was only when we started thinking outside of the box that we had our first big breakthrough, with Australia Post.”

A written policy of selling no food or drink products made Australia Post a particularly unlikely target, though Flynn saw a positive in having no competition. After 18 months, they agreed to a trial and then rolled out Thankyou Water to more than 1,000 outlets across the country.

Harnessing the power of social media

In the meantime, the Thankyou brand was attracting Facebook supporters. “We see Facebook as a way of building a community rather than promoting our products,” says Flynn. “And we’ve only called on our followers for help a couple of times. We don’t want them to feel they’re being used.”

The first was for the 2011 7-Eleven campaign, when they posted a call to action on Facebook asking followers to tell 7-Eleven that they would buy Thankyou Water. “On the first day, hundreds of people posted messages on 7-Eleven’s Facebook page and that attracted the attention of mainstream media,” says Flynn. “7-Eleven were convinced and Thankyou Water went on to become one of the best-selling products in the fridge.”

By the time the team pitched to Coles and Woolworths, the Thankyou range had expanded to include high quality food and body care products. They called on their followers once again and added an attention grabbing flourish – privately sponsored helicopters flew banners over both companies’ headquarters urging them to say ‘yes’ to the pitch. They did and, remarkably, within hours of the meetings.

“One major retailer told us that we stood out from a crowded marketplace, and I think that’s something every small business owner should bear in mind,” says Flynn. “There’s a lot of competition for very crowded shelf space so you really do have to stand out to succeed.”

You should also be prepared for hard work, setbacks and initial rejection. “The first three years were really discouraging,” says Flynn. “For example, we sent and received over 25,000 emails before landing our first major deal. But we also learnt lessons that were fundamental to our success. To date, the sale of Thankyou products has funded over 100 projects in nine countries, helping more than 60,000 people in need.”

Daniel Flynn’s tips for selling to major retailers:

  • Identify and approach your target market, but also be prepared to think outside of the box.
  • Remember that stockists are looking for opportunities, not ideas.
  • Be bold – you need to stand out from the crowd.
  • Don’t be afraid of big ideas; being small doesn’t mean you have to think small.
  • Use social media to build awareness.
  • If you’re short of money or experience, don’t make excuses. Look for fresh, new ways of doing things.

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