Supply chain · 21 April 2017

Selling to Boots: A retailer hoping to find a nugget? from independent suppliers

Selling to Boots
Getting a product into Boots’ 2, 500 stores is the ideal way to reach a national audience for a small health and beauty brand
For the latest in a Business Advice series helping readers get their products stocked by the UK’s leading retailers, we speak to two suppliers who succeeded in selling to Boots after winning over the store’s buying team.

As the UK’s longest-standing pharmaceutical chain, Boots is one of the first places a young brand will consider when looking to break a health and beauty product into a high street market.

Since 1849 the chain has built a name as a cosmetics staple on UK high streets, but it has a distinctly commercial outlook. The chain’s professional standards director told a committee of MPs in 2009 that Boots would continue to stock homeopathic remedies based solely on consumer demand.

Now, Boots? 2, 500 stores stock a product selection ranging from toiletries to healthy snacks, leaving significant opportunities for smaller suppliers to get on board and join hundreds of existing brands.

Future suppliers seeking a listing will need to ensure Boots? ‘sustainable and ethical supply chain? standards are met, including fully traceable origins of materials as well as environmental footprint.

Ask any small supplier selling products in nationwide stores how they got in and they will likely give the same answer by targeting the buying team. As reported earlier in our supply chain series, trade shows and exhibitions are an ideal hunting ground for retail buyers. In some cases, it could even lead the buyers to you.?

This was the experience of Shaun Pulfrey, founder of the detangling Tangle Teezer hairbrush, after a Boots buyer witnessed his stand at The Clothes Show in 2008 being mobbed? by youngsters wanting to buy his product.

that gave them confidence that we could develop into a successful brand, he told Business Advice. In Pulfrey’s experience with Tangle Teezer, being a new brand with an innovative product was attractive to Boots.

every buyer at Boots has loved what we are trying to do, and that’s been hugely encouraging given the knowledge they have for the beauty market, Pulfrey explained. He added that the buying team is constantly on the lookout for new and exciting products, and like nothing more than to find a nugget? from an independent company.

Tangle Teezer's Shaun Pulfrey and Matt Lumb
Tangle Teezer’s Shaun Pulfrey and Matt Lumb
Gracie and Sophie Tyrrell, the sisters behind Squirrel Sisters? raw energy bars, began their journey with Boots in 2016 after recognising the store’s efforts to expand its range to reflect the healthy lifestyles of customers.

we saw that Boots was making a change with the kind of products it made available it looked like there was a healthier offering in general. We felt our product would fit in really well, Sophie explained.

For the entrepreneurial duo, a plucky phone call to head office was all it took to get through to the right buyer.

‘she was happy to see some more information. She liked the look of the product and the presentation we sent over. They were then were keen to try samples. So, we sent those over and they absolutely loved them, Gracie said.

A buyer’s time is valuable, and being able to demonstrate the potential of a product quickly and stand out amongst the vast number of suppliers looking to get into any store is important. In the Tyrells? experience, it was all about the product.

they said the taste was brilliant and they loved the packaging, Sophie added. It did exactly what it said. There are a lot of bars out there, we did stand out in terms of format, brand, quality and taste. That for Boots is key.?

The Tyrrells also found Boots was ready to welcome new products. The buyers there are quite forward thinking and were excited by smaller brands, Gracie explained. Theyve got really high standards for what they believe is a good product. Things arent put on the shelves for the sake of it.

Capturing the attention of the buyers is part of the challenge, but, as with any retailer, proving customers will buy your product is vital when selling to Boots. So, what does a smaller brand need in place before approaching the buying team? For Squirrel Sisters, having a clear marketing and PR strategy was fundamental in gaining traction through the initial meetings.

it was our first big retailer, and we already had proof with a rate of sale in other places, meaning it could have belief in us. We made it really clear we were going to do everything we could to push sales and transcribe into repeat purchases, ” said Sophie.

The Tyrell’s launched their bars in November 2015 on its own website, before gaining listings with Planet Organic and Whole Foods. This online presence was crucial in bringing products to a wider audience as early as possible.

it meant we were available nationwide. People from Scotland, for example, could buy our bars, whereas we werent available in stores there, Gracie said.

Squirrell Sisters co-founders Gracie and Sophie Tyrrell
Squirrell Sisters co-founders Gracie and Sophie Tyrrell
To win over the buying team, Pulfrey said the most important thing for a future Boots partner was to have a clear vision of where they want to see their brand in five years, as well as an understanding of Boots? own objectives as a business.

if the two can align, then you can work together as partners, rather than a traditional supplier and customer relationship, he explained.

Like Tangle Teezer, Squirrell Sisters also proved its brand alignment with Boots. The Tyrrells warned fellow entrepreneurs against blindly targeting as many retailers as possible. Having a product that clearly reflected the existing offering in Boots was important for both brands.


 
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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

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