Supply chain · 28 September 2017

Find out what a Holland & Barrett buyer looks for from young brands

Lucy Pottinger
Lucy Pottinger is head of beauty products for Holland & Barrett

Having met three businesses with shelf space at the health food chain, Business Advice turns the tables and asks what a Holland & Barrett buyer gets excited by.

Over the last year, our regular supply chain series has discovered what it’s like selling to some of Britain’s biggest retail brands as a smaller supplier.

From Sainsbury’s to Screwfix and Harvey Nichols to Whole Foods, we’ve spoken to a diverse mix of up and coming UK producers, who’ve revealed their experiences – both good and bad – of selling to some of retail’s most recognisable brands.

Having heard our suppliers’ stories, now it’s the turn of the retailers themselves to give us their views. We’ll put professional buyers under the spotlight – those whose job it is to decide which of your products are strong enough to win that all-important place on their shelves.

They’ll be asked what key attributes they look for in a prospective supplier’s business model, and what their ideal pitch would be.

First up, Business Advice met Holland & Barrett buyer Lucy Pottinger, who heads up beauty products at the health food and supplement retailer. She revealed what the perfect product pitch from a new supplier looks like.

“The pitch needs to be short, to the point and engaging. The buyer needs to buy-in to your vision for the product, so you want to be passionate about what it does and why Holland & Barrett in particular should stock it.

“For example, one of our suppliers – Beauty Kitchen founder Jo Chidley – sold me her vision for the brand when she gave me a hand massage in the middle of Starbucks!”

Beauty Kitchen
Suppliers are asked about their marketing plan for products

Pottinger said that before a face-to-face meeting with a new supplier, a Holland & Barrett buyer must first be impressed by an email pitch. “We want to know about the product: what’s different about it, why would a Holland & Barrett customer want to buy it and what are your marketing plans for it?

“How are you going to train Holland & Barrett store associates so they can make the most out of the product? If the pitch answers these questions and has taken our eye, we will arrange to meet in person.”

She also explained, in greater detail, what she’s looking for in new Holland & Barrett products, and admitted it was important for suppliers themselves to demonstrate that they understood the health food retailer’s ethos before they agreed a deal.

“Someone who can engage the buyer in their vision and who fully believes in the power of their product (and that it’s one that our customers would love to buy) are the ones that are successful. If we find a gem of a product that makes sense for us to help bring it to market, then we will do it.

“We really like a product that is unique and we love innovation. As a retailer, we are known for our quirky products, so it’s important that we keep on finding them. Our beauty customers also want products that look good and fit with their style, so packaging becomes important.

“Above all, the products need to meet our buying ethos. We are a health and wellness company, and our healthy beauty products are all free from parabens, SLS and microbeads. Plus, they are cruelty free and we have a growing range of vegan and natural products that are often kind to the environment too.”

Pottinger revealed that it wasn’t important whether a product had already won a listing with another retailer or not. “We wouldn’t automatically disregard a product because it was already listed elsewhere, but we want products that set us apart from other retailers, both on the high street and online,” she added.

Read more from our supply chain series: 

Selling to Holland & Barrett

Selling to AmazonFresh

“Having exclusivity on a product means that we can keep our offer unique and keep exciting the customer so that they keep coming back to shop with us.”

The Holland & Barrett buyer claimed it doesn’t matter what stage a supplier’s business was at, so long as they pitched a great product, adding that the high street chain is frequently able to give a leg up to small firms in terms of manufacturing and distribution capacity.

She added: “It’s important for us to understand the capacity of the supplier and we can work together to plan how to support growing demand of their product. There isn’t a hard and fast rule.

“In some cases, suppliers might have a product to show us, have an image of the product or just have a great idea. We have partnered with suppliers at all of these stages in the past, so we really are open to anyone with a great product.”

Selling to Holland & Barrett
Holland & Barrett does not offer a one-size-fits-all listing

Neither is the level of business experience an individual has necessarily relevant for Holland & Barrett. Pottinger said: “We look at each idea that is pitched to us and have worked with products at all stages of development, so although experience helps, it’s not essential.

“We work with a variety of suppliers, from large established businesses to small startups, and entrepreneurs that come to us with simply a great idea. We can help support the supplier and work collaboratively to get the product to market.”

In keeping with Holland & Barrett’s no one-size-fits-all approach to new suppliers, there is no standard listing offer the retailer makes to a company when it does decide to stock their products. Details to do with how long a listing will last and which UK stores will be included, for example, are worked out on a case-by-case basis between Holland & Barrett buyer and supplier.

According to Pottinger, Holland & Barrett is able to tailor its services to the specific needs of any new suppliers because of this flexible format. “We will always come to a solution that fits well with both the supplier and us. We can take a product from a first launch and being in just a few of our shops, to being in every shop. We can support the supplier each step of the way, if that is what they need.”

Catch up on articles you may have missed from this series: 

Whole Foods

Notonthehighstreet.com

Waitrose

Planet Organic

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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