Even with its shorter format this year, CES promises to be crawling with retail buyers seeking the next big thing. A retail deal – or making the connections that lead to one – is typically a central goal for most companies at CES.
And while the show amounts to a cornucopia of opportunity for tech brands of all sizes, too often companies squander their chances with retail buyers at CES by communicating the wrong things.
Here’s a primer on 4 types of retail buyers that you might meet at CES, their chief concerns, and what they will likely care less about:
The Warehouse Club Buyer (e.g. Costco)
While many covet the Costcos of the world, few are chosen, and for good reason. Warehouse Clubs are notoriously tricky to deal with. Margins are dictated to Warehouse Club Buyers by internal policy (Costco typically fixes margins at 14 percent). As such these buyers care about ensuring that their members enjoy savings of 20 to 40 percent and in some cases substantially more when compared to other retailers. The ability to offer exclusive product offerings or formats is crucial in this endeavour.
Beyond discounts, the ability to consistently deliver products in volume is a major concern of these buyers because warehouse clubs turnover significant inventory. Be ready to speak to your supply chain.
What matters less to Club Buyers
Club Buyers tend not to care too much about your marketing and PR spend. Don’t expect to sway them by detailing your budget levels for these line items or by telling them tech media are calling you the greatest thing since sliced bread. Earned media and marketing matter less in Warehouse Clubs than in all other types of retail.
Unless you’re Proctor and Gamble don’t expect to get into a Club with more than one SKU initially. That you have a line matters but don’t expect these buyers to care too much about items beyond your best sellers.
The National Retail Chain buyer (e.g. Target, Best Buy)
National chain buyers tend to have an array of concerns for companies exhibiting at CES. Be ready to speak to your numbers, whether you are already in other retail and especially if you’ve been Amazon only or direct to consumer to date.
You need to be equally prepared to speak to your marketing and PR plans. National retail chains count on unassisted sales driven by things like ads, influencers and earned media. Buyers at CES may offer comments on your level of spend. Hear them out.
What matters less to National Chain Buyers
Despite posturing by some chains, things like “Made in the USA” matter less to national chain buyers. While these are ‘nice to haves’, most buyers are going to be far more preoccupied with sales, marketing and your supply chain.
The Regional Chain Buyer (e.g. MicroCenter)
Chains that operate in at least 2 but less than 10 states are typically considered ‘regional’. Since these are smaller enterprises than the aforementioned categories, they have unique concerns. Regional buyers care if a product is placed with national retailers. They don't like the competition and being price-shopped. Moreover, they may ask about the inventory pipeline – specifically whether a vendor will service, say, Walmart before them. Finally, in our experience, these buyers value when a vendor offers training and support to their in-store staff, so consider these options.
What matters less to Regional Chain Buyers
Again, much relates to size. Regional buyers care less about a vendor having a large number of product offerings, as they can't fit all those products in their stores and may lack the budget to pay for more SKUs.
The College Bookstore Buyer (e.g. USC campus bookstore)
Every campus has a bookstore and they are often chock full of tech. These outlets hit on a good demographic for most tech vendors. Brand matters immensely to college bookstore buyers. They want brands students and faculty already know. Note that college bookstore buyers care how the selected product is priced on Amazon and other retailers. Typically, brands offer the college bookstores a nice discount that is passed over to the college students and faculty. If you are going to be significantly cheaper on Amazon this group is not worth your time.
What matters less to college bookstore buyers
Startups in Eureka Park with zero brand equity or sales history aren’t going to be attractive to college bookstores. These buyers will also care less about brands that cannot offer both stock and drop ship capabilities, so be ready to address these points.
There are other kinds of buyers on the floor but these common types are always at CES. Have a good show!
Written by Jackson Wightman, Founder of Proper Propaganda, Yohan Jacob, President of Retailbound, and Chris Clark, partner at Clark St Jean Added Value Solutions.