Wednesday, March 26, 2014

3 Key Factors to Consider when Launching a Foreign Product in the USA!

It is no secret that the US is the largest consumer market in the world gobbling up almost 29% of the total market.  To put that in perspective, total household spending in the US is a whopping 3.4 times more than households of the next closest country.

It is this mass consumption of goods and services that beckons to manufactures the all over the world to bring their products to the US.  Thoughts of doubling or even tripling their current sales efforts run rampant and expectations skyrocket.

Although the right product sold in the US, in the right way can surely be a company game changer, there are several factors that should be considered before beginning your US product invasion.


  1. Market Experience - The first thing any manufacture should do when looking to expand into the US is find someone who has hands on, “real world” product sales experience.  I cannot stress this enough!  Every market is different, from packaging and product copy, to websites and social media, to buyers and logistics, the strategies you are accustomed to may not work on your new battlefield and your company will need guidance before, during and after your launch to be successful.
  2. Commit to the Long Term - If you are considering launching your product in the US, it is important to understand the process will be a marathon, not a sprint.  From manpower to capital, you must prepare to “slug” it out for at least 24 months before any significant, recurring sales will begin to flow.  Can it happen sooner than 24 months?  Of course!  However, strategically your company will be better positioned if your expectation is 24 months and the process goes a bit faster.
  3. Open a US Based Company - Once you have a qualified consultant and you have created a long term strategy, it will be time to open a US registered company.  Although this is not required to do business with US based retailers, the process of set up, payment, credit card processing and logistics will be vastly more efficient if you do.  I understand this takes some commitment and a huge leap of faith, however, it is very difficult to “kind-of” do business in the US.  The commitment is either there or it is not.

The US consumer market is the Holy Grail of product sales and as such is not tamed easily.  Much experience, patience and determination is needed to master this market.  However, once mastered, it will take you for the ride of your life!

As a retail product consultant and Costco expert, I am often asked about bringing products to the US.  Over the years, I have helped multiple companies prepare, launch and manage their US retail product business.  Below are some of the most common questions I receive during my free consultations.  I hope you find them helpful.


  1. Will US retailers buy full containers? - The easiest answer is yes, but not at the beginning.  All US retailers will want to test products to ensure they will sell prior to making a large commitment.  Once a successful test is complete, most large US retailers will be open to buying full containers FOB if there is a significant price advantage for doing so.  Please note:  Even if the retailer is buying full containers from overseas, you may still be required to maintain some domestic inventory for emergencies and quicker fulfillment.
  2. How many samples will I need to shop my product?  Depending on the product, I would recommend at least 50-100 production quality samples when introducing your product to the market.  These samples should not be “hand made” (if at all possible) and you must be prepared that in some cases you will not get the samples back, even if the retailers chooses not to carry your product.
  3. Will retailers prepay for product?  No!  Once your product is established and selling well, you may be able to request a retailer provide an LC on large shipments, however; unless your product is the new Cabbage Patch Doll or Power Ranger toy, you must be able to finance product and terms of up to 90 days to be competitive. 
  4. Does my product need a UPC or EAN?  Yes.  All products sold through mainstream retail must either have an EAN or UPC.
  5. Does my company need to have a US website?  The answer to this question is more of an opinion on my part.  Yes, I believe in order for your product to be competitive and have a real chance, it must be represented and sold on a website designed and written for the US consumer.
  6. Will I have to pay duty on my product when importing it to the US?  This is a product specific question as products are treated differently depending on what category the fall into.  I recommend contacting a US customs broker to help you with all importing product questions and fees.  Western Overseas Corporation out of Long Beach is a good one.  www.westernoverseas.com
  7. Is Product Liability Insurance required?  Yes.  All major retailers require you to carry PLI (Product Liability Insurance) with the specific retailer named in the policy.  A minimum of $2M per occurrence and $4M aggregate is generally required.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What do Trade Shows and SEO have in common?

A great trade show booth is like a great website.  No matter how much time, money and effort you put into building them, without promotion, no one will come!

Many first time show attendees believe that if they build a great booth or have a great product, buyers will magically come.  The problem with this strategy is that most major retail buyers have already pre-scheduled their time and are running a very tight schedule.  These buyers are running from one appointment to another and are not simply browsing down each aisle to see if something catches their eye.  Having a great booth with no list is like having a great website and not doing any SEO.  Building your list begins well before the first day of the show and is crucial to your shows success.

I am sure you are asking, “What the heck is My List?”  Your list should consist of the people you have reached out to prior to the show and let them know who you are, where your booth is and why you would like them to come by.  Remember, this is a numbers game, the more people you reach out to and introduce to your company; the more buyers will make time in their schedule to come visit you.

You might be saying "isn't the entire reason for having a booth at a show to capitalize on the buyers and media that are walking the show?"  Perhaps!  However, do you really want to spend upwards of $5,000-$6,000 for the mere possibility someone will wonder into your booth?  If so call me, I have some property in Florida I want you to look at.  In all seriousness preplanning is the key to trade show success.  Below are 3 hints to get your started on your list.


  1. Gather your key contacts - Who is it you really want to see at the show?  Gather your contact list together and make it as thorough as possible.  Names, addresses, phone numbers and emails.
  2. Create an invite - Put together a simple, emailable postcard inviting your key contacts to come visit your booth.  This postcard should be professionally done as it will serve as your first impression.  It should be short and to the point, no one wants to read through a long paragraph to find out what you could have told them in one line.  "Come see what is new in American Made Cookware"!  Call for an appointment or come by booth 1234.  This simple sentence tells your buyer a couple of key facts about your company.  1.  You sell cookware, 2.  You have something new,  3.  Your product is American Made and 4.  You are busy enough to be setting appointments.
  3. Don't wait to the last minute - Do your best to get on buyers schedules early as they will fill up quickly.  Start sending out your information 3-4 weeks prior to the show. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

4 Program Costs you should always factor into your product pricing!

Program costs can be considered any additional cost a retailer is going to ask you to be responsible for paying.  These costs should be built into your cost structure prior to quoting.  Not building in these costs prior to quoting a retailer is a a recipe for disaster.  Your company must be able to incur these costs and still produce a healthy margin for your overall long term retail strategy to work.  

Some common program costs that must be considered are:

  1. Returns - A retailer might ask for a % off invoice to cover any returns.  This % can range from 2%+ depending on the product and as an allowance can be agreed upon up front.  An allowance allows a retailer to deduct the same amount from all invoices irrespective of the actual returns percentage.  At times this may be a win for the retailer as the returns could come in lower than the agreed upon amount or at times this can be a win for the vendor as at times the returns can come in higher than the agreed upon amount.  If an allowance is not possible the retailer will generally ask the vendor to be responsible for all returns.  If this is the case you must accrue an amount on your own to ensure you are not left short when the retailer takes this deduction.
  2. Freight - At times retailers will ask for a “Delivered Cost”.  Delivered cost means that you will have to pay to deliver the product to the retailer therefor you must factor this cost into your pricing structure.  
  3. MDF - MDF stands for Marketing Development Fund.  This would be money your company would accrue for future promotional opportunities or a retailer will require that you contribute to a fund.  For example, when working with Amazon they will ask for 12% coop or MDF.
  4. Mark Downs - This is a fund you would accrue for use in liquidating slow moving inventory from a retailer.  Many times retailers will not mention this, but will come to you later asking for money to help move stagnate product.  It is best to accrue for this on your own so you have money when the time comes.  For example; some club stores do not transfer merchandise from warehouse to warehouse which means you might get an order from warehouse A, while getting a markdown request from warehouse B only 5 miles away.  So at the same time your product is growing nicely in one warehouse you are marking it down and clearing it out of another.

It is important to note that some retailers will negotiate program costs with you upfront and will deduct the negotiated percentage direct from the invoice when paying you.  Other retailers will not negotiate this upfront, but will still make deductions from your invoice when paying.  It is always the vendors responsibility to ensure the proper program costs are factored into pricing prior to quoting as it is very hard to go back to a retailer and increase their costs simply because this was missed the first time.

TLB Consulting has created several easy to use pricing templates for all types of retail.  These templates are completely fomulated and offer recommended program cost percentages for different retailer types.  Simply plug in your unique numbers and let the template price your product for you.  Click here for more information on the pricing templates.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

5 Easy ways to improve your follow up after a trade show

Would you be shocked to learn that over 75% of trade show exhibiters will never fully follow up with all the leads they gather at the show.  

Why is this?  Is it because they think buyers lied to them and are not as interested as they let on?  Is it because they took poor notes or misplaced information?  Maybe they are simply lazy or overwhelmed.  

I have wondered and pondered this statistic for years.  There is really one reason and one reason only for attending a trade show, leads.  Yes, of course, branding is part of the over all goal, but leads that turn into sales is the #1 purpose of any trade show, right?  If this is true then why the disconnect?  Why do so many exibitors fall down here?  I believe planning and allocation of time is the real issue.  Having either attended or consulted on 100s of trade shows myself over the years I have seen lack of planning and time allocation result in poor trade show performance time and again.  If you are attending a trade show where you could potentially gather more than 100 leads you need to plan for and clear a certain amount of time following the show to do nothing but follow up.  

Below are 5 suggestions for a stellar follow up routine after any trade show.
  1.     Clear your schedule – Prior to the trade show beginning you must clear 2-4 days after the show ends to complete your follow up.  Many sales people either take time off or go back to their daily routines directly after a trade show.  If the trade show is 3 days you should allocate 1-2 days before for preparation and 2-3 days after for follow up.
  2.     Don’t follow up during the show – I have known sales people that feel if they follow up each night of the show they will stay on top of their leads.  Although this may be true, their follow is falling of deaf ears as their prospects are still at the show and overloaded with information.  You should always begin your follow up 2-4 days after the show ends depending on how big the show was.
  3.      Don’t stop working – Instead of spending time each night following up during the show, use this time to complete the normal work piling up in your inbox.  Doing this will allow you the time you need after the show to focus on follow up.
  4.     FOLLOW THROUGH – I cannot yell this loud enough.  If you promise something at the show you must follow through on what you said you would do, when you said you would do it.  I know this sounds like a no brainer, but I have spoken to many buyers who say sales people at a show said they would call or send samples and never did.  Don’t be one of those sales people; follow through!
  5.     Everybody counts – Don’t follow up with some and not with others.  There will always be large, small and medium sized opportunities, they all deserve to hear from you after the show.

Quick Tip: When taking business cards always write something identifying on the back of the card that will help you remember the person and what you promised to do for them.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Pricing your Product for Retail: What not to do!

Case Study “Great sales, no money”:

Last year a food company came to me and asked if I could help them with their pricing.  As with all my potential clients I asked them a couple of clarifying questions to get a handle on if I could help or not.  As it turned out this company was already in a large club store and was doing quite well.  There was only one issue, they were not making any money.  Like so many before them they had been blinded by the allure of a Club store only requiring a 14% or less margin on their item.  They had wild visions of how they would spend the extra margin coming their way.  Boats, cars, the sky was the limit, or so they thought.  It wasn’t to long before they received their first check and noted a % had been taken out for returns, which was an area they had not counted on.  Next there was the business of markdowns in the underperforming warehouses, this was money they had not counted on either.  Finally, in an effort to stimulate sales, they were asked to promote their product by placing in on an end cap and were paralyzed by the price tag.  These items are not the retailer sticking it to the little guy, it is simply the cost to do business in mass retail and must be factored in before any pricing is offered.  

Ultimately we were able to find some efficiencies in their logistics and packaging which freed up some short term margin.  We also worked with their manufacturing to create a broader, longer term solution which made sense.  

It's tough enough to gain retail distribution in today's market, the last thing any manufacture wants is to find out they quoted incorrectly. 


Lesson:  Never simply assume your pricing will work.  Know your back end costs and ensure you feel good about your bottom line prior to quoting any pricing to any retailer.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

9 Strategies to a successful Trade Show

As I help my clients prepare for this years International Housewares show, coming up in March, I noticed that I have been a bit more insistent regarding preparation than in years past.    It is not that I don’t always yell preparation from the rooftops; it’s just that this year seems a bit different. 

I know what your thinking, if I tell them to wear comfortable shoes and take good notes all will be well.  But the truth is, YOU NEED MORE THAN COMFORTABLE SHOES AND A NOTEPAD TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL TRADE SHOW.

Over the years I have followed a specific trade show regiment, a regiment that has lead to many successful and lucrative trade shows.  It is this set of simple, perfected guidelines that I have shared with my clients this year, and the very same I am going to share with you now. 

Please understand I am not reinventing the wheel here.  I don’t have the recipe to Coke or a map to buried treasure.  What I do have, what I have used in the past to create trade show success are the following guidelines.

  1. Set a goal
  2. Do your homework
  3. Build your list
  4. Set appointments
  5. Have an offer, no really, a good offer
  6. Capture leads
  7. Know your differentiator
  8. Learn to Re-adjust
  9. Follow up




Setting a Goal:
I am sure, as a professional or entrepreneur, your first thought was “dah”, of course you should set a goal.  However, you may be shocked to find that less than 10% of exhibitors at any given trade show have actually set a tangible goal and keep that goal in front of them daily at the show.   Here are a couple of guidelines to remember when creating and setting your trade show goals.

  • Be specific – I want to generate 150 quality leads.  From those leads I want to close $$$ of sales over the next 6 months.
  • Write them down – Ensure your goals are written down and with you at all times.
  • View your goals – Reviewing your goals each day prior to the show opening will help you stay focused as the long day wears on.


Do your homework:
There is a tremendous amount of opportunity and unseen expense that goes along with every trade show.  In order to be fully prepare in advance for your show you must read, not skim, read through all of your show paperwork.  Not informing yourself can leave you on the sideline for great, free opportunities that can showcase your product and can leave you holding the bag on costs you were not prepared for.  Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want even if the deadline has passed, you will be surprised at how accommodating the promoters can be if you are professional.  Just last week one of my clients submitted their product to be part of the Green products display at the Housewares Show.  Even though the deadline had pasted they were accepted.  Never hurts to ask.  Below are a couple must do’s for every trade show attendee.

  • Fill out your online profile completely.  
  • Don’t leave any area unfinished unless it simply does not apply. Upload quality images of your product and logo.  No iPhone pics here.
  • Apply to every award or special venue that your product qualifies for.
  • Keep hard copies of everything you have done and paid for in a file that will go with you to the show.


Build your list – Many first time show attendees believe that if they build a great booth or have a great product, buyers will magically come.  The problem with this strategy is that most major retail buyers have already prescheduled their time and are running a very tight schedule.  These buyers are running from one appointment to another and are not simply browsing down each aisle to see if something catches their eye.  Having a great booth with no list is like having a great website and not doing any SEO.  Building your list begins well before the first day of the show.  I am sure you are asking, “What the heck is My List?”  Your list is the people you have reached out to prior to the show and let them know who you are, where your booth is and why you would like them to come by.  Remember, this is a numbers game, the more people you reach out to and introduce to your company; the more buyers will make time in their schedule to come visit you.

Set Appointments – Once you have reached out to as many current and future customers as possible, you should begin to set appointments.  I recommend creating an appointment sheet for each day of the show.  The appointment sheet should be broken down into 15-minute increments beginning 1 hour after the show opens and ending 1 hour before the show closes.  This will give you time in the morning to prepare and time in the evening to recap.  It is conceivable that certain appointments will take longer than 15 minutes and if this is the case simply mark off 2 or more sections for that particular customer.   Not every buyer will set an appointment with you, however you should do your best to set appointments with the buyers you are most interested in doing business with.  This will ensure you are available when those buyers come to your booth.

Have a really good show special – It is extremely rare for buyers of any large retailer to commit, on the spot, to an order.  With that said, it is possible to write orders for specialty, online and single store owners on the spot if you have a great show special.  Below are some specials that can turn the heads of smaller retailers.

  • Extended terms – Privately owned specialty retailers will jump at the chance to purchase goods net 60 or net 90.
  • Free launch kits – Offer free POP kits to retailers writing orders at the show.
  •  Free Shipping – Offer free shipping on any order written at the show or free shipping on orders over a certain amount written at the show.
  • For more ideas contact me at www.tlbconsulting.com


Capture Leads – If you are wondering if it is worth it to spend the money on a lead capturing machine wonder no more.  It is worth it!  Once the show is over these leads can be converted into a CSV file and downloaded directly into Salesforce or whatever CRM you are using.  Quick Tip: When taking business cards always write something identifying on the back of the card that will help you remember the person and what you promised to do for them.

Know your differentiator – Identify the one or two things about your product or service that sets you apart and work it into an opening one-line pitch.  You will only have a few seconds to grab the attention of potential customers, make the most of it with a great one-line opening.   I have a client who sells a compact, electric, composter that can turn kitchen scraps into grade A compost in less than 3 hours, with no smell or mess.  My opening line for this client was “Did you know that composting can now take less than 3 hours?”  Anyone that knows anything about composting knows that it takes weeks for food to decompose into compost, which made the above statement an attention getter. 

For help preparing for your next trade show contact me at www.tlbconsulting.com 

Learn to Re-Adjust – Now that you have your goals, your plan, your appointments, your offer and your pitch line what happens if nothing works?  Last year I was at a trade show for dieticians selling them a program for offering a certain type of cookware to their clients that would help their clients eat healthier.  The program made sense, the offer was great, the product was superb but every single dietician said no the first day.  What was their reason?  “How can I offer cookware to my clients that I myself have not even tried?”  This hit us like a ton of bricks!  Of course they wouldn’t offer a product to their clients they had not tried themselves, their credibility would be on the line.  After a powwow the evening after the first day we decided to create a 1 pan try me offer.  Instead of offering the program, the next day we explained the program, but offered a try me pan at a great price so they could fall in love with the product first.  This was a huge success and we generated over 140 leads in the final 2 days of the show.  Lesson: Don’t keep doing something that is not working.  Listen to your prospects and make adjustments if needed.

Follow up - Would you be shocked to learn that over 60% of trade show exhibiters will never fully follow up with all the leads they gathered at the show.  Why is this?  I have wondered and pondered this statistic for years and what I have come up with is simply a time issue.  If you are attending a trade show where you could potentially gather more than 100 leads you need to clear a certain amount of time following the show to do nothing but follow up.  Below are some suggestions for a stellar follow up routine after any trade show.

  • Clear your schedule – Prior to the trade show beginning you must clear 2-4 days after the show ends to complete your follow up.
  • Don’t follow up during the show – Some sales people feel that if they follow up each night of the show they will stay on top of their leads.  Although this may be true, your follow up will be falling of deaf ears as your prospects are still at the show and overloaded with information.  Begin your follow up 2-4 days after the show ends depending on how big the show was.
  • Don’t stop working – Instead of spending time each night following up during the show, use this time to complete the normal work piling up in your inbox.  Doing this will allow you the time you need after the show to focus on follow up.
  • FOLLOW THROUGH – I cannot yell this loud enough.  If you promise something at the show you must follow through on what you said you would do when you said you would do it.  I know this sounds like a no brainer, but I have spoken to many buyers who say sales people at a show said they would call or send samples and never did.  Don’t be one of those sales people; follow through!
  • Everybody counts – Don’t follow up with some and not with others.  There will always be large, small and medium sized opportunities, they all deserve to hear from you after the show.


As you can see there are many aspects to a successful and lucrative trade show.  To maximize your opportunities none of the above 9 areas can be left out.  I hope the above information has been helpful and to close this article out I will leave you with one final thought.

If someone took the time to visit your booth, speak to you, take your information and leave theirs they have, at the very least, some interest in what you have to offer.  Don’t ever discard a lead, you may have to inactivate them for a while, but never stop following up.  No doesn’t necessarily mean Never!


I would love to hear some of your strategies for a successful trade show, please leave me a comment below.