How do small tech businesses fire up their retail sales?

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Being listed by a major retailer is just the beginning.

Innovation of technology is happening at a ferocious pace and it seems that there’s a gadget for everything and everyone these days. This has resulted in a very competitive retail environment both on and offline with a continuous flow of new products being launched to market.

However, it's important to note that much of the new tech coming on to the market is originating from innovative start-up brands who may, or may not, have the marketing muscle or budgets to compete at the same level as established brands. For example, brands like Tile, who have a limited portfolio of products are bringing innovative tracking technology to the smart home category. Innovation from these types of company is exciting, but we must make sure that these products get to see the rabbit so to speak. Without brand recall in retail, many brands get lost in the noise when competing against those with bigger marketing budgets to woo the attention and support of major retailers.

Businesses spend time, money and energy pitching to buyers but many fail to prepare properly for when their online listing finally gets the green light, which can often take far longer than expected - i.e. months rather than weeks. It may also only be a sample of a retailers estate in which the brand gets the opportunity to prove the viability of their product. Once a retailer presses the button, a brand must fit with the retailers’ timelines and expectations and retailers are savvy operators, not to be underestimated when understanding what their shoppers like. The moment the listing begins is when businesses really need to move product, especially in traditional brick-and-mortar stores.

Some brands are astute enough to have created a strong online presence and awareness already via their own platforms or investment in an advertising campaign but for many, building brand awareness and driving conversation really starts with retail. So, what’s the best retail strategy for a start-up technology brand?

Get real

Firstly, don’t just focus online. According to the ONS online sales still only account for 18% of overall retail spend. This is especially true for electrical/technology products, which are often a considered purchase. Our own research shows that people like to go in-store, touch and feel the products, see them working in situ and get advice from store staff on what they should be purchasing.

Despite what many brands may think, you cannot rely on purely the store to sell your products as you will be just one of many established brands in a crowded category, or a category of one which no one has heard of or understands fully. Your carefully crafted marketing messages and USPs can easily get lost in translation. It’s not like an own brand store where everything is within your control. Your can, however, take collaborative steps to help how your brand is marketed in third party retail.

Depending on the store and deal being negotiated pick your store strategy carefully. For example, you may or may not have the option to be in an entire estate and you may have more success and sell through picking off specific stores that attract more of your audience profile. However, which stores you end up in is not necessarily your choice; possibly being in fewer stores can make things easier to manage in the short term to establish store presence as sales increase.

Hearts and minds

This is one of the most crucial times for a start-up brand and getting momentum can make or break a business. Invest in working with a partner, an agency or individual consultant that strategically works as an extension of your sales and marketing strategy and enables your limited resources to focus on the 'bigger picture', making the right connections in store – connecting your brand with both the sales staff and consumers alike. Don’t leave it to chance or risk being ignored.

Work with the store to create an experience. This doesn't have to be a large scale costly production. Merchandise well and manage the retail space so consumers can learn, look, touch and interact with the product effortlessly. But most importantly, develop a relationship with management and shop floor staff.

Show them you’re a brand that means business and is going to invest in them as a partner. Seeding product with selected store staff is common practice and enables them to talk sincerely about your product based on actual usage and therefore encouraging them to become an evangelist of your brand. You ideally want to create a store full of influencers who are willing you to succeed so charm them, train them and reward them.

Innovation is fuelling this exciting technological transformation, must make sure that these products get into the hands of retail store advisors who are capable of selling it and ultimately into the consumers’ basket. Considered purchases take time and an approach that resonates with a consumer’s lifestyle and need. Brands should not just be reliant on the big online retailers who are not the panacea many brands perceive them to be. Marketing online is another Pandora’s box we can discuss next time.

Daniel Todaro is managing director of Gekko

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