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SMALL BUSINESS | SMALL TALK

Getting Your Product to Supermarket

April 01, 1998|KAREN E. KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Q: We are starting a new business with a kitchenware product and would like to sell it to supermarket chains. How does one go about getting a product distributed through a supermarket?

--Walter N. Bien, BNCO, Moorpark

A: Getting a product placed in a supermarket chain is a difficult proposition because there are so many products competing for limited shelf space. First, make sure you have market study data that show your product is unique and proves there is an audience for it.

You may want to try working both ends of the supermarket hierarchy, sending samples and a letter to the general offices of the chain, as well as visiting branch stores where you would like to see the product carried and talking to individual managers. Make sure you leave samples and ask them to see what kind of reaction they get to your product. If there is some interest on the grass-roots level, you might ask them to make introductions that will help you launch your product with some of the higher-ups at the chain.

One of the most successful approaches to launching a new product comes about when entrepreneurs see beyond the traditional applications and start with lesser-known channels, getting their product into the hands of people who will test it out and recommend it if they like it. Some places to start would be catering companies, kitchenware stores, culinary schools and restaurants. People in these places are well-connected to others in the industry, and you will learn a lot from their feedback about your product.

Another approach would be to debut your product at a trade show. There are costs connected with this approach, but it may well be no more expensive than sending hundreds of samples to supermarkets across the country. The advantage to the trade show is that you get the chance to demonstrate the product and get face-to-face responses and comments. You can find out about upcoming industry trade shows by subscribing to trade journals such as Gourmet Retailer, Nations Restaurant News, Fancy Food magazine and Gourmet News. Your library's reference department should be able to help you locate these publications, as well as trade journals aimed specifically at the supermarket industry.

--Robert Wemischner, certified executive chef and co-author, "Gourmet to Go"

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Q: I need to locate a cloth supplier and a company to cut and sew a product I have invented. I can do the packaging and shipping. Is there an organization that can put me in touch with companies willing to take on small amounts of work from a start-up business?

--Dwight Hohman, West Covina

A: A referral service offered by the Garment Contractors Assn. of Southern California can give you the names of various companies that do contract cutting and sewing. The group has an office in the California Mart and can be reached by calling (213) 629-4422 or through its Web site at http://www.garmentcontractors.org Two smaller associations also exist: the American Chinese Garment Contractors' Assn. of Southern California [(213) 628-8295] and the Korean American Garment Industry Assn. [(213) 389-7776].

When it comes to fabric, you might try the Textile Assn. of Los Angeles, which prints a directory of its member companies. This group represents wholesale fabric suppliers who carry all kinds of textiles, including industrial and specialty fabrics, trims and notions. You can call them at (213) 627-6173.

Before you begin negotiating with a supplier and a contractor, decide exactly what you want them to do for you. Many contractors offer package deals, where you simply supply them with your specifications and patterns and they source the material, do the cutting and sewing and then deliver the finished product to you for one price. Other people, who may want closer control, purchase the material themselves and work personally through each stage of the sewing, cutting, trimming and screen printing.

Be aware that no matter how you handle it, this venture may prove costly, especially if you will be ordering a low volume of product. This typically occurs when you are in the development stage and are still figuring out how the finished product will look and what it will cost to produce or if you are having samples made for salesmen to show to prospective retail customers.

Once you begin production and start ordering a larger volume of product to fill incoming orders for shipment, your costs will drop.

Also, remember when you are comparing prices that getting the best value does not always mean taking the lowest bid. Consider quality and delivery guarantees. Ask companies to give you references of other firms with which they have done business and then ask those references whether the companies were able to meet their delivery schedules while maintaining high-quality products.

Checking the references is especially important if you plan not only to use the contractor as a sample producer but eventually to place the bulk of your production with them.

--Jean Gipe, professor and director, Apparel

Technology and Research Center, Cal Poly Pomona

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If you have a question about how to start or operate a small business, mail it to Karen E. Klein care of the Los Angeles Times, 1333 S. Mayflower Ave., Suite 100, Monrovia, CA 91016, or e-mail it to kklein6349@aol.com. Include your name, address and telephone number. The column is designed to answer questions of general interest. It should not be construed as legal advice.

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