The peril of not being ready to appear in major stores is a problem KIND knows all about. Around 2007, one Wal-Mart buyer gave us a chance.
She was a KIND consumer herself and believed in our brand. She wanted us to succeed. Wal-Mart is a prize account for consumer brands, but it’s a challenging customer for a fledgling start-up to have, because it has world — class service standards and expectations from its vendors.
We debuted in one thousand Wal-Mart stores.
At the time, there was no defined nutritional bar aisle, so we found ourselves on a shelf next to candy bars (which are made of very different ingredients and retail for a fraction of the price of a bar made from whole nuts and fruits).
The larger challenge was that Wal-Mart consumers did not have sufficient awareness of our product.
And we also did not have enough knowledge, as a company, about how to handle an account as big as Wal-Mart.
Our product tended to go missing from shelves, because we couldn’t control the distribution correctly. We sold through a large distributor and had no idea how to monitor our placement. Our products too often got lost in the supply chain.
The test failed within a year and KIND products were discontinued. It was quite a disappointing setback.
When I hired our president, John Leahy, in 2010, I wanted to try Wal-Mart again.
“We’re not ready,” John said. “We’ll go after them when we’re ready.”
We spent the rest of that year and the next working on our internal systems, our distribution, and our tracking. We hired team members who had experience working with Wal-Mart and who understood how their supplier ecosystem worked.
In early 2012, we began making presentations to the company. By that point, KIND had enough brand clout; we were a very different company than we had been five years before. By April 2012, we gained distribution at Wal-Mart.
We now sell four-packs, multipacks, individual KIND bars, and KIND Clusters at Wal-Mart, at attractive prices for consumers.
Because of our success with Wal-Mart, we received a call from their sister company, Sam’s Club, which became a customer as well.
We had a similar experience with Target.
Several limited tests, beginning in 2011, did not go spectacularly, but we gave the relationship everything we had and took nothing for granted. John persuaded them that we deserved a real shot so we could invest in them on a nationwide scale (by then, our awareness and momentum warranted no less).
We began selling regularly at Target in September 2013 and gained traction quickly.
They now feature all of our lines prominently. Our granola line is the bestseller in its category. They noticed, and invited us to partner with them on their prestigious Made to Matter initiative, spotlighting socially conscious companies on the cutting edge. We are blessed to consider them a formidable partner.
Whatever beachhead you conquer, you have to be able to deliver more productive returns to the retailer, on a same-store basis, than competing brands. Then the retailers start helping you expand.
You need to be disciplined and respectful — to your brand and to the retailers — and keep walking past the stores that are not right for you, or not ripe for a relationship. Learn to wait.
Often you’re anxious and excited to expand your business, and you don’t want to slow down.
It’s hard to be patient when you want everyone to buy your product.
One rule of thumb KIND lives by is to do only that which we can do with absolute excellence, without cutting any corners.
And a trick I use to conquer my own fear of closing off opportunities is to say to myself, “I am not saying ‘no.’ I am just saying, ‘not now, not yet.'” I learned to be disciplined enough not to drop everything and go for it immediately.
We entrepreneurs tend to sense — falsely — that everything we do will succeed. It is this sense of invincibility that prompts us to take risks others may not, so it is an essential strength to have this naïve bravado to some degree. But it can also destroy us if not managed.
Michael Porter, a professor at Harvard Business School, said, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” For entrepreneurs, at a minimum, they can tell themselves that strategy means choosing what to leave for tomorrow.
From the book DO THE KIND THING: THINK BOUNDLESSLY, WORK PURPOSEFULLY, LIVE PASSIONATELY by Daniel Lubetzky. Copyright © 2015 by Daniel Lubetzky. Reprinted by arrangement with Ballantine, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
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