With so many brands vying for customers’ attention–both online and in-store–it’s critical to find the right brand partners to ensure the success of your beauty retail operation. While choosing the right products is paramount, there are other significant factors to consider as well. “It has to be a good product, but there are thousands of good products on the market, so that’s just the starting line,” opines Jay Halaby, domestic sales manager for manufacturer rep firm, The Kirschner Group in Valencia, California. Packaging, promotional materials, shipping and logistics also play a key role in creating a profitible partnership. “It’s becoming more challenging for stores to find good partner brands, and brands need to adapt to their customer base–not the consumer, but the stores themselves,” Halaby adds.
What other factors are important in a good brand partner? Here, experts from top manufacturer rep firms across the country weigh-in with their best advice.
WHAT’S THE STORY?
Kristel White, cofounder of J. White & Associates in Charlotte, North Carolina, notes that with the fully matured beauty industry, it's harder for brands to stand out. “There’s a lot of redundancy–no one needs another shampoo or conditioner; they need an ingredient story,” she asserts. “Most retailers now are hip to the value of indie brands, and they need a unique story.” A “clean beauty" selection–what White calls the current “little black dress” of beauty retail, is mandatory.
Oftentimes a brand's story is told silently. Tom Harrison, principal at Coleman/Harrison in Dallas, believes that one of the most important messages is communicated at the shelf. “What is the product, how does it work and what results can I expect–those are the three questions that any consumer, retailer or professional is asking about any product,” Harrison explains. “It’s incumbent upon the manufacturer to answer those questions when the customer is standing in front of the product.” Outside the store, he adds, online education is a relatively inexpensive way to inform the consumer about the brand story–for example, through YouTube videos.
“A good brand partner needs the whole package to be successful: A strong presence, story and marketing strategy are vital to get the product in the hands of the consumer,” agrees Nicole Freeman, principal at The Freeman Group in Long Beach, California. “We’ve become a scrolling culture, and products need to pop, jump and dazzle before attention moves on to something else.”
Thanks to that scrolling culture, experts agree that a brand needs a strong social media presence in order to connect with customers, educate, generate buzz and ultimately drive them to your store. “I think probably the most important thing is social media reach–Instagram, Twitter, Facebook,” says Eddie Berger, vice president of BTB Sales & Marketing in Bellmore, New York. “Once people see the brand on social media, they search it out in stores–and when they tell their friends, word of mouth starts from there.” Harrison agrees, adding that retailers should ask a brand about its stance on social media, as well as any influencers it may have–in other words, are any external people driving demand for your product?
Halaby believes that most retailers are seeking brands with rich social media interaction, as well as advertising or marketing support. “It’s all about the marketing but, from a marketing perspective, more brands are going social media-based,” Halaby says. “YouTube videos and social media push are what to look at; those are crucial for when someone wants to find out more information on the brand.”
Online channels can also be a valuable resource for a retailer’s sales staff to learn more about the products. “There are fewer brands that offer personnel to go into stores, so digital and social media support is critical,” White stresses. “I also see brand partners getting a lot of bang for their buck in participating in subscription boxes; it’s a cost to the manufacturer, but it’s targeted marketing–someone is paying to try your product; they want it. As a retailer, I want to know what your social strategy looks like and what’s your subscription box participation–even more so than consumer advertising or retailer support, which isn’t much there anymore.”
However, White adds, field sales support has been largely replaced by on-demand education. She points to clean beauty retailer Credo. It offers an online platform where brands can upload training assets for sales personnel, including a test component, which has proven effective for staff training. Still, Halaby notes, the demand for customer education may depend on the product. “More companies, large and small, see it’s more cost-effective to have training videos and online education vs. in-person education,” he says. “Both consumers and professionals don’t want to drop what they’re doing to attend an education class; they want to look at their phone and learn about it. If it’s a skincare or makeup line, some- one coming in to demonstrate and educate staff is helpful, while for shampoo or sundry brands, it might not be as necessary, so it depends on the level of training required for the product.”
When choosing a brand partner, inquire about the materials they can provide to help sell their products in-store. Though Berger admits that brands might suffer from dwindling budgets for marketing materials, he believes most do offer some support, from a shelf talker to a window cling calling out a product or company name. “When you walk down the aisle, you want a reason for that item to jump out at you, and in-store they can reach out and touch it,” he says. “Most makeup companies or skincare products offer testers so customers can try them out before purchasing. And it’s great when a manufacturer can supply an educator for a store visit, in order to offer classes or educational events, if they have the budget.”
Marketing, of course, also extends to packaging– does the brand draw eyeballs to the shelf, making shoppers stop and look? “The packaging itself has to be the silent salesman for the product–with so much turnover in stores, even if you train personnel, are they going to be there?” White asks. “The packaging has to tell what it does, how it works and why they should buy it.” Furthermore, she believes, the packaging should suit the price point–for example, a premium product can’t skate by with substandard packaging.
Berger agrees that packaging is key. “When customers walk down an aisle, a bland-looking bottle or jar is not going to get their attention. But something that stands out will make them stop and look, and maybe read the ingredients or smell it,” he says. “Packaging is important when a consumer is standing in front of 20 or 30 feet of product. A shelf talker or dangler, as well as great packaging–that’s what people pick up first.”
After all, Harrison points out, when consumers are looking in-store or through a catalog, you have just a split second to capture their attention. “What does the packaging have that makes customers stop–a bright color, unique bottle shape, interesting name?” he asks. “What piques their curiosity and makes them want to learn more about the product?” For example, he points to some manufacturers using provocative names to stop customers in their tracks. Halaby, who believes packaging is more important than ever, notes that as consumers are always looking for something different, the more unique the packaging, the better it will sell. Freeman adds that if the packaging looks dated, the consumer will assume the product is as well–even if the product itself sports incredible new technology.
THE LOGIC OF LOGISTICS
Beyond the bells and whistles, brands must be able to provide core logistical basics, such as smooth shipping processes. “Typically, manufacturers offer a freight policy, where they will pay the freight with a minimum amount of product bought,” Harrison says. “They have to be able to ship product on a timely basis, but it also needs to look good when it gets to the shelves–so they have to use strong boxes to ensure the visual appearance on shelf is optimal. Who wants to go into a store and buy beat-up products because the box wasn’t strong enough to protect the items during shipping? There are a lot of steps between manufacturing and getting it on the shelf, and you have to make sure it looks good all along the way.”
Halaby agrees that stores, when buying directly from manufacturers, should seek brands that can ship quickly, efficiently and accurately. “For a larger brand, they can use distributors to get products out quicker, but the downside is that you may not get the full line extension,” he adds. “Working with a redistributor, you might be limited on SKUs.”
Freeman also advocates working with brands that boast a strong infrastructure–think easy ordering, quick fulfillment and fast shipping. “These are vital for product placement and excitement from the seller; the store owner and staff need to feel good about a product, and that includes the energy behind getting it on the shelves,” Freeman explains. “When we recently advised a new brand in keeping shipping costs down, the manufacturer proposed a cheaper method in which the sales staff would assemble the product in the packaging. But adding more work for staff is only going to leave a bad taste in the seller’s mouth–and that will ultimately translate negatively to product placement and the hype generated by staff.”
Logistics also involves a key question: What is the brand doing to drive consumers to your store? Despite the reach and usefulness of social media sites and video sharing sites like YouTube, which help brands recognize trends and communicate with consumers, brands still need
the retailer, Halaby notes. “People can always go to Amazon or other channels, so the brand needs to support the retail store,” he says. “Store locators are very important–for them to say, this is where you can get our product, and touch, feel and smell it. Look for brands doing that– pushing people into the store, not just promoting their brand.” If the brand is supporting the retailer, the retailer will be more apt to support the brand in return.
Finally, Harrison stresses the importance of working with brand partners that understand the retailer’s business. “Who is the retailer selling to? Who’s their target market?” he asks. “So often, we see manufacturers take a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing product, but it’s important they understand the store’s customers so they know where the opportunities lie. It’s one thing to pique the consumer’s curiosity, but it’s even more important to send them somewhere so there’s an opportunity for a sale!”