FORTUNE Small Business:

How can we sell in big retail stores?

FSB's Anne Fisher deciphers the various ways to get your product into top retail stores.

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(FORTUNE Small Business) -- Dear FSB: My company makes fashion tape (two-sided adhesive that keeps clothing in place). We're struggling to land a major retail account. Our products sell well in boutiques and online, and we've gotten great national media exposure, including on Good Morning America and in In Style magazine. Yet despite our creativity - we've even sent lottery tickets to big retailers' buyers - we can't get a meeting. Do you have suggestions?

Rebecca Whicker, President
Bug Catcherz, Atlanta

Dear Rebecca: There's no one way to become a vendor to a big retail chain. Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500), which buys $200 billion in merchandise each year from 61,000 suppliers, gives detailed online proposal-submission instructions at walmartstores.com (under "Suppliers"). Target (TGT, Fortune 500)'s e-mail application process begins with a call to its vendor hotline: 612-696-7500. Higher-end department stores have no such standard drill. Instead, your best bet with Nordstrom (JWN, Fortune 500) or Macy's (M, Fortune 500) (which owns Bloomingdale's) is to call your local store and ask for the appropriate buyer for your region. She'll tell you what your next steps should be.

In all cases, because stores value vendor diversity, it would probably help to get certified as a woman-owned business. Wal-Mart will accept certification only from the Women's Business Enterprise National Council. Its counterpart for minorities is the National Minority Supplier Development Council.

Buyers typically won't meet with you until they've approved your product, and for some reason that's not happening. Which leads us to ask: How attached are you to your company's name? "Your website makes it clear that you've invented clever fashion-tape products that help women's clothes fit better, but if you call someone and say, 'I'm from Bug Catcherz,' they won't think of fashion tape," says Pete Dewar, head of verbal identity for global branding giant Interbrand. "Your name is your calling card - and unfortunately this one makes you sound like a pest-control company." Dewar adds that big retail chains, especially upscale fashion retailers, seek products that "add value to their brand by reflecting its style and image." He doubts that a name like Bug Catcherz does that. To top of page

How can Rebecca get her product into retail stores? Share your advice for Bug Catcherz here.

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