When it comes to marketing your business, you’ve probably heard about the four P’s: Product, Price, Place and Promotion.
Your product is right in front of you, and you know what makes it special. You’ve figured out the pricing structure for that special product. You could talk about it all day — promoting your product will be a breeze.
But where will you do it?
In which locations will you sell your product, and how will that product get from your business to your consumer?
If you wait to think about place and distribution until you’re already actively selling your product, you’ve waited too long. Whether you’re just getting started or want to correct your course, consider the following to determine this important, but often-overlooked element of the four P’s.
While retail is the traditional method for selling products, this arena is more diverse than ever before. Opening your own shop may sound appealing, but you’ll need a full array of products and a team to sell it; the overhead may prove too expensive.
Other retail options include pop-up shops, festivals and special-event sales. Or, test the waters by setting up part of your office as a showroom where you can meet potential customers by appointment.
If you choose to wholesale to independent or chain stores, be sure to determine your rules (like minimum order amount, return policy, payment due dates) before taking your first order. Having a strong policy in place will show potential stockists how serious you are about working with them to sell merchandise.
Online no longer seems like a new frontier for retailers, but it can still be daunting for new sellers. Consider whether your product could be best represented in your own online store, through a marketplace like Etsy, or through an online retailer who would buy your product at wholesale.
Be sure to find out who packs and mails orders for any options you consider. Do you have the resources to get to the post office on a near-daily basis when orders come in? Are you willing to sign a drop-ship agreement? Is it worth paying for a fulfillment service, either initially or as you grow?
Working with a distributor can take a lot of the heavy lifting off your shoulders. Your revenue may be lower since your distributors will keep a portion of what they sell, but the benefits may outweigh the alternate option - making those sales calls and managing related inventory yourself. A distributor will use their connections and expertise to connect as many customers to your product as possible.
Before signing with a distributor, make sure you know about their territory restrictions or exclusivity requirements. Clear communication will help the distributor of your choice help do the most for your business.
The right distribution mix for your small business
Not sure which distribution channel is right for you? Start brainstorming by thinking about where you want to see your product available for sale in one, three and five years from now. You may find that a combination of distribution tactics works best or that your needs evolve over time.
Monica Mitidieri started selling cookies as part of her catering packages, and then her business — now focused on cookies — has grown to include regional stores, her own storefront, and a feature with QVC.
Ginny Jackson had been running her business, Personalized Blankets, for 15 years before exploring ways she could work with boutiques to scale the company.
Meanwhile, Maria Dellapina, owner of Specs4Us, works with international distributors along with eyewear providers in the United States.
Meet with a SCORE mentor to discuss your distribution options and start perfecting your 4 P’s!