EP 24: Finding Support Systems for Your Business With Associations with Sue Warfield

In this episode, Robyn interviews Sue Warfield; she is the director of member relations for ASTRA (American Specialist Toy Retailing Association).  She shares how manufacturer associations can be a great resource for knowledge and support as you grow your business.

Find a support network.

Growing a business can be isolating.  Knowing where to turn for help and support can make the difference in the success of your business.  Sue shares first about what ASTRA is and no matter what type of product you make, there is probably a similar association for your category or product type.

ASTRA helps its members connect and do business with great manufacturer reps, connect to brick and mortar stores, and talk with others about how to handle online sales like Amazon.

Sue also shares the importance of finding the right fit for your company.  Is the group:

  • Right for your product category?
  • Right for the size of your company?
  • Active enough to get you the support you need?

Focus on independently owned stores when starting out.

Often times a small, new to category brand will approach us to be on Amazon.  Sometimes the smarter place to put your marketing resources is small independently-owned businesses.  The beauty of an independently owned business is that you will be able to talk to either a manager that does have a say in the products and knows their customer or directly with the owner. Because they are the decision-makers, you can avoid layers of committees, buyers, and assistant buyers; therefore expediting your sales process.

Independent stores are looking for something new and exciting, and they want to help people that are trying to produce that for them. These smaller retailers will even display your product and have the customers interact with it, providing you with great information and feedback. It’s basically a free test market study with actual customers.

Being able to test a product in a real-life setting is a huge benefit. The customer feedback you receive won’t be tainted or bias, and you can find out what needs to be adjusted before committing to a large production run.

Aim small, miss small

Sue explains when she looks at young manufacturers, one of the things that can derail them is stale inventory. She believes that you must think about your product like a vehicle, and you’re trying to get to a destination, but the cash in your business is the gasoline. It doesn’t matter how great your product is, if you don’t have the cash, you don’t have the gas to be able to keep that engine running and keep everything moving. It doesn’t matter if your product was the next big thing because you won’t be able to do the steps that you need to get it all the way through if all your cash is tied up in inventory.

Don’t overspend on inventory to lower your production costs. It’s better to start out with small orders at a higher price point, and once you’ve worked out all the kinks, done your market research and started getting sales then, and only then do you move towards large product runs.

Another thing to take into consideration is your competition is always watching, so if you go for that big run and send your product into the world. But it fails because of one little detail, now your idea is out there, and somebody else will pick it up because they have the cash to run with it. Even if you’ve got the protection of patents, you still have to fight, but you’ve already run out of gas. It is unpleasant to say, but it does happen. So, starting small and getting it right is the way to go.

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