Field Marketing, Field Sales

3 Industry Secrets to Building Stellar Retailer Relationships [Expert Interview]

Relationships of all kinds can be difficult to navigate, and the relationship between a brand representative and a retailer is no exception. Still, many reps, merchandisers, and salespeople forego some of the basic principles of a healthy retailer relationship, and either end up with a very uncomfortable situation or worse -- the deterioration of a partnership.


The way you approach a retailer can determine the success your product has in the store. Whether you are pitching a product for the first time, making a return merchandising trip, or approaching a store owner about display adjustments, there are important steps to take in order to ensure a successful and mutually beneficial retailer relationship.

We spoke to Tom First, co-founder of Nantucket Nectars and retailer relationship guru, to get a better idea of where reps go wrong and hear the tips and tricks he has learned on his road to success in the retail industry.  




Make Yourself Memorable

“The cardinal sin is to walk in the door and walk right to your own product,” Tom First advises. “The store is not your place to go touch the shelf without speaking to the retailer first, shaking their hand, introducing yourself, and then asking permission.”

So, first things first: always introduce yourself when you visit a retailer. You can’t build a positive relationship with a retailer if they have no idea who you are. On any given day, countless company reps, salespeople, merchandisers, and so many others make their way in and out of a store. A store owner or manager cannot possibly keep track of all of these people, so the onus is on you to create a relationship that stands out.


Tom First (1).png

Tweet: “The cardinal sin is to walk in the door and walk right to your product.


Extending a handshake, a smile, and politely requesting permission to do your job will impress retailers with your professionalism and courtesy. Knowing your face and name will personify your company to a retailer and make them more willing to cooperate with you in the future. Should a tough conversation take place somewhere down the line, things will go much more smoothly with a retailer who feels a personal connection with your company.

Save yourself future exasperation by establishing your identity today; it will undoubtedly come in handy tomorrow. “It earns you a lot of respect and sets the tone for the work you might do that day in the store,” says First.





Develop Recognition Patterns

Any time you enter a retail location, you should be hyper-aware of your surroundings. Being on the lookout for any cues into what sort of retailer you will be working with makes you much more prepared. What kind of products does the store carry? At what prices? What do the shelves look like? How tidy is the store?

If you are able to answer these questions within the first few minutes you are in a store, any negotiation that may need to take place later on will be much easier. You will have insights into how the retailer does business, which of your competitors they carry, and how to best adapt your pricing strategy to this location.


Pro Tip: Here's how Tom First used these “recognition patterns” to get better shelf share for Nantucket Nectars:

If store shelves appeared messy, that indicated that the retailer probably wouldn’t mind if he went in and reorganized, taking up some extra room for his products. If store shelves were well kept, that would suggest that the retailer may be harder to convince when it came to getting an extra slot or more shelf space. Utilizing recognition patterns and being observant, Tom says, “will help you approach the retailer the right way the first time, rather than making a mistake.” 



Become Invaluable to the Retailer

One of the most important things to understand when it comes to retailer relationships is that store owners are under no obligation to work with you. In a way, you don’t just work for your company -- you work for the retailer, too. While you are in the store, you should act as a consultant rather than a client, showing the retailer that you have taken their interests into account and offering value beyond your product.


Pro Tip: When he was selling Nantucket Nectars, First used to explain to store owners that their shelves were like apartment buildings, and that products were like tenants paying rent.

“Just being on the shelf was not paying rent - that was squatting. Coming off the shelf was paying rent. You should put stuff on your shelf that pays rent (hopefully your product). Otherwise, you’re a landlord that’s going broke.”

This example is a great way to frame negotiations, allowing you to make suggestions on behalf of your product while also showing the retailer you are looking out for them. If you can prove that your product will “pay rent” for those shelves, the retailer will be hard pressed not to heed your advice and alter their display to feature you instead.


Whether it is a new account or a store you’ve been working with for years, respecting and understanding retailers will always be priceless. Keep Tom’s tips in mind, and watch your retailer relationships unfold with ease.

Melissa Sonntag

Melissa is a recent graduate of Northeastern University and a content marketing specialist at Repsly, Inc. She is committed to applying her skills in order to bring value to Repsly readers and customers. Outside of work, Melissa enjoys practicing yoga, making music, and anything dog-related.

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