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How I Got Retailers to Carry My Product

selling to retailers, Specialty food businesses tips

No matter how great your product, it's not always easy to get retailers to carry it. And it's certainly not cheap. Julie Busha, president of sales and marketing for Nicole Foods, has managed to find a way to get her company's product in thousands of retail stores, without spending a lot of money.

The product, called Slawsa, a sweet and spicy relish alternative, is made by Nicole Foods. It was created by Judson Odom in 1998, but the company did not take off until Odom partnered with Busha in mid-2011. Busha made it her mission to get Slawsa in sold in retail stores. With Busha's sales and marketing expertise leading the way (Busha was in marketing for NASCAR for more than a decade), Slawsa is now available in 2,000 stores nationwide, with more planned.

Busha achieved this goal by slashing spending wherever she could and putting the money the company saved directly into building brand awareness of the company and its product.

"Any small business has to be in the same position if they want to grow," she said. "Every single dime you make has to go right back into it. Saving in one place means spending more on the other projects and getting more bang for your buck."

For a small food business, distribution can be cost prohibitive. Busha solved this problem by signing up for a backhaul program through a food distributor. The food trucking company was already making the trip from the manufacturing plant in Winston-Salem, N.C., to Slawsa's distribution point in Chattanooga, Tenn., with its own products. Because the company would be shipping an empty truck back anyway, Slawsa was able to put its products on the return trip for a much lower price than it would cost to contract the trucks directly.

"I basically pay for the fuel," Busha said. Busha is not only cutting her own costs — she's also helping out the food distribution company, because they get to make a small profit where they would have had an empty truck before. This kind of partnering is key to lowering costs.

This symbiotic relationship tactic also translates to the production lines. Busha found a co-packer (a food manufacturer that packages their own products, but will take on contract customers) that manufactured a cabbage-based product, much like Slawsa. With the Slawsa contract, the co-packer was able to purchase cabbage in bulk, lowering Busha's ingredient costs as well as the co-packer's.

"[Hiring a co-packer] is something where there's a little cost to do it, but it's relatively cost-effective, especially if you have a good co-packer and the relationship is as beneficial for them as it is for you," she said.

It's clear that Nicole Foods' success is due to Busha's ability to partner as much as possible. In addition to partnering with trucking companies and co-packers, Busha has figured out ways to partner at sampling events (by putting the Slawsa stand directly next to the Johnsonville brats stand).

"We're always looking for ways to partner with other manufacturers similar to us and save costs wherever we can," Busha said. She said she has saved Nicole Foods roughly 50 percent in production costs alone, plus thousands more by doing the company's PR and website by herself. Those saved dollars are put right back into the company through media promotions, and the strategy is paying off.

"We're honored to think that 10 months ago we were in no stores, and by mid-September, we'll be in 3,500," she said. "It's fantastic, and a real testament to the flavor of the product."

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