9 Steps Towards Placing Your Product On New York City’s Store Shelves

So, you want to take a big bite out of the Big Apple’s massive market space… now what?

Targeting a transition to an overseas market such as New York City is a lofty and ambitious goal, but one that can pay big dividends if you find success. Stagnation is the enemy of progress, after all. Once you’ve established your product’s success in your home market, why wouldn’t you look for ways to grow its success?

With more than 8 million people spread across the Five Boroughs, New York City represents one of the biggest markets in the United States. It can be a trendsetter, too — there’s no shortage of brands that got their start in the City and moved on to national and international recognition. The hamburger chain Shake Shack, for example, was for years little more than its namesake: a humble shack in Central Park serving up burgers and milkshakes. Today, there are more than 150 locations around the world.

That brings us back to our first question: now what? If you’re thinking about leaping the Atlantic to try and establish your food product in New York City, you’ll need to prepare yourself. Use these tips and tricks to help your efforts along the way.

1. Do your homework

What do you know about selling products in New York? That’s the #1 question you need to answer before you make any other moves. If you try to leap straight into selling to retailers around the city, you’ll quickly find you’re out of your depth. Before you make any major decisions — perhaps before you even get started on other parts of this undertaking — you should conduct thorough research on the market. Look to answer questions about the fundamentals, such as where you would like to sell, what your minimum order will be, and what type of payment arrangement is most common.

Think about it: you probably did a lot of basic footwork establishing your product here first before you started thinking about overseas expansion. Simply repeat the process and don’t neglect to remind yourself how much frustration you’ll spare your future self from with the work. Determinations you make during this stage can ripple to have a significant effect by the time you’re placing calls to buyers and pitching your product.

2. Re-tune your website to emphasize your wholesaling

While you’re at it, now is also an excellent time to make some modifications to your online presence. New York is a fast-paced and highly connected city. The ability to simply point someone to your website for information about your wholesale opportunities is an invaluable time-saver you’ll come to rely on repeatedly in your discussions. Bring your wholesaling information front and center and make it easy to find from your main page. If you run social media pages for your brand, you can consider an announcement when you move into this new market about the opportunities available.

Later, if your efforts begin to take off, you won’t have to constantly be on the hunt for new retailers and clients to add to your book. Instead, interested parties will visit your site, read the information you’ve provided, and they will take the initiative to call you. Don’t underestimate the power of your website to play a role in an expansion.

3. Change up your packaging for a more competitive market

In 1989, Boris Yeltsin, the soon-to-be Russian President, took a detour on a trip to Texas to explore a local grocery store. The story of his stunned amazement at the full shelves and the extensive product diversity has become almost mythical with its Cold War-era trappings. Yet, though Yeltsin’s impression was in part defined by its contrast to standards in Russia, it’s hard to deny the vast number of items available on American shelves was as important.

The good news: you don’t have to market to impress a hardened Soviet leader. The bad news: American shelves are still crammed to bursting with products of all kinds, with heavy competition in just about every sector. The packaging you use now might not be enough to grab the attention of wandering eyes. A redesign for the American market is a smart move — and probably a necessity to comply with different packaging standards, too.

4. Use case studies from your existing efforts to demonstrate value

Take advantage of what you already know and use your business experience to develop case studies you can use to show off the value of your product for a retailer. For example, some items can affect those shelved around them. Buyers who visit a location for your product may frequently end up purchasing a related product shelved nearby. In other cases, your sales numbers alone can speak for themselves. Look closely at your existing business relationships and consider working with existing clients to quantify the most positive aspects of selling your product.

In New York City, many are used to businesses who over-promise and under-deliver. Head off that concern at the pass by coming equipped with case studies that show your product can, and does sell, in the environment you’re targeting.

5. Build a base for growth by reaching out to local buyers

Although they’ve seen something of a decline in recent years, the backbone of the grocery world in NYC is the “bodega” — small, often independently operated corner stores that carry all kinds of fresh and packaged goods. Rather than looking to come overseas and immediately make a push for a major name brand retailer, forge local relationships first. Getting your product onto the shelves of bodegas can be simpler, especially if you’re able to demonstrate a healthy rate of sales. Plus, working with bodegas has another advantage: it puts your product directly in front of real New Yorkers, the average person who is most likely to take an interest in your specific product.

With fewer hassles about slotting fees and less mainstream corporate red tape to navigate, you can use local retailers in the city to establish a foothold. Success in these storefronts can help you translate your efforts to a broader field, later. Remember those case studies? Now would be a perfect time to develop some in conjunction with your local sources.

6. Don’t neglect logistics: set up a reliable way to distribute your product

How are you going to get your product into stores? This logistical hurdle is a tough one when you’re new to the market, especially coming from overseas. Take heart, though: finding distribution channels shouldn’t be too challenging with the experience you’ve already gained at home. Connect with local distributors who can handle the appropriate level of inventory for the type of business you want to conduct. Work to establish these relationships early. When you start having serious talks with buyers about placing your product in stores, you want to have the ability to move product to where it needs to go without significant delays.

7. Be vigilant about your follow-ups with major market buyers

Eventually, you’ll want to try to secure shelf space in the more prominent retailers present around New York’s five boroughs. That merits adopting a more aggressive strategy than you’ll use elsewhere. Expect the word “no,” but don’t take it as a finality unless there are abundant reasons to believe so; many other brands haven’t made it into a Wal-Mart or a Target on the first try, but they got there eventually. When you contact these businesses, make it your mission to stay in touch with them.

You should always know exactly what stage of the process you’re in and where you stand. Consistently follow up with your corporate points of contact, or visit local stores to discuss how to get space with a representative in person. Don’t wait for a call back that might never come. Seize the initiative — or let your success in smaller markets draw bigger opportunities to your brand.

8. Look for opportunities to ignite buzz by word of mouth

One of the most important aspects of the city for your efforts is its overall culture. Even though the people are diverse, many if not most of them identify as “New Yorkers.” Specific brands and items, from Katz’s Deli to the cronut, are well-loved and closely guarded parts of the institution that is NYC. Take advantage of the fact that New Yorkers love to talk, and create a buzz around your product with creative marketing, free samples, or even small events.

The goal: get store owners asking you for the opportunity to sell your product.

9. Plan to strive towards success

Breaking into the American market, not to mention gaining a foothold in New York City is a challenge you would do best not to underestimate. Think of the difficulties you experienced in establishing your product at home. Then multiply them by two or three to anticipate the roadblocks you might encounter coming to NYC. The good news is that the experience you’ve already gained will be a valuable tool in helping you to avoid common mistakes while saving time. That’s especially so when it comes to building relationships with distributors and buyers. Persevere through the tough times just like before, and you can potentially tap into an expansive and active market that could lift your product to new heights.

Are you hungry for a taste of the Big Apple’s business? Reach out and grab it!

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