For new and aspiring inventors, one of the most symbolic measures of success is a presence in a major big-box retailer (Walmart, Toys R Us, Home Depot, etc.). The size and notoriety of these stores rightly make them attractive landing spots for any invention. They’re capable of reaching a vast base of consumers, and giving a product unparalleled exposure. However, we find that inventors often become unduly fixated on getting their product into a big box store, and neglect crucial opportunities to build their invention’s profile, audience, and overall chance of success.
Understanding the Online Store
When it comes to massive retail success, what most inventors are looking for is physically getting their product on thousands of shelves nationwide. For products that are not already established, however, and do not have an audience of millions, a more likely scenario is that Walmart, Home Depot, etc. will offer to host a product on their online store. Since the name on the site is the same as the name on the building, inventors commonly believe that the exposure is the same. What is often misunderstood is that online stores do not have the limitations of shelf space. Walmart can (and does) host hundreds of thousands of products on their online store, at no risk or cost to themselves. They couldn’t possibly advertise each product, or conduct a marketing campaign that would highlight, or draw attention to, any individual invention; a consumer is unlikely to ‘stumble upon’ your product on Walmart.com unless they’re specifically looking for it (and unfortunately, most shoppers don’t know what they’re looking for until they find it).
Their Risk vs. Your Risk
Normally, there’s little harm in simply testing the retail waters, but big box stores generally want inventors to have a sizeable inventory. While it’s highly unlikely that many of their online products will sell hundreds of thousands of units, Walmart needs to know that they can fill whatever orders might come in, so it’s common for them to request hundreds of thousands of units to be manufactured and kept on-hand. Unfortunately, what often happens is that the product does not sell, Walmart no longer needs/wants the inventory, and inventors find themselves saddled with thousands of their own units, with little revenue to show for it.
How to Catch Their Eye
Walmart and other big box retailers can be hugely beneficial to inventors if approached at a strategic time, and under appropriate circumstances. The best way to get a real shelf presence in these retailers is to have a solid resume for your product: a loyal, well-educated audience, a formidable sales history, and a brand that draws attention. A product that has succeeded in specialty retail—smaller, more boutique, regional stores and catalogues—has a much greater chance of catching the eye of Walmart, and inclining them not to give your product webspace (which costs them nothing), but to give it shelf space in a number of store locations. Licensing is another effective way to do this. A DRTV campaign is a wonderful way to exhibit a product’s wide-ranging appeal to potential big box retailers.
At Lightning Launch we heavily emphasize the importance of the process, of building a product’s resume through specialty retail or licensing. These are profitable ends in themselves, but can also be necessary precursors to more far-ranging, lucrative opportunities. Don’t get star-struck by the big-name retailers. Understand their benefits and drawbacks, and be disciplined in your approach to win them over.