It has the allure of shimmering silken spider’s web that draws in its victim. It is intoxicating, all but impossible to escape. If you land there, you risk a slow and agonizing death. A delightful upbeat article, huh?
Not to worry, I am merely using this as a metaphor for distribution. Opening more doors, getting on more shelves is exciting, captivating, and in most cases, it’s terrible for the brand. Yet, this is still common practice and, for many, hard to avoid.
Let’s first discuss why this is potentially bad for business. The ultimate goal of any natural product brand is to either be consumed or used by its customers. Getting into doors or onto more shelves does not guarantee the former. In fact, I would argue it reduces that potential.
On the surface, that last point sounds counter-intuitive, but hear me out. To be consumed or used, your product first has to be discovered. Driving discovery is a complicated and expensive proposition. That difficulty and expense only grow as distribution expands, making both your marketing and use of capital more inefficient.
So, what should you do? I am glad you asked. Take a disciplined approach. Start with empathy. Thinking through the lens of your consumer, where is the problem you’re solving most pronounced or the need most acute? Next, who is that consumer? Where do they live, play, work, and shop? Answer this well, and you’ve unlocked the key to driving discovery. With your answers in hand, identify the type of outlets and the location within them where your consumers are likely to be. Now, you have distribution guardrails.
To build a successful brand, you must demonstrate an ability to gain consumer traction. You must drive velocity within each and every point of distribution. It takes discipline to limit expansion to only the doors and shelves that provide the best chance for discovery. But, doing so offers the most unobstructed path to sustainable growth. Your messaging becomes louder, and your use of capital more efficient.
The tough thing is that our industry conspires against this disciplined approach. Category review calendars can scare us. If we don’t submit this round, we could be forced to wait another year when a lot can change. Go to any industry event, and the first question asked by most interested parties is, “How many doors are you in?” As an industry, we use distribution to keep score, and that does a great disservice to early-stage brands.
It is not going to be easy to avoid the spider’s web. The pull is strong, and the norms of the industry work against you. However, as a disciplined contrarian, you can set your brand on the path to sustainable growth, positioning it well for both future investment and scale. If I can leave you with one thought, it would be that getting on the shelf is the battle getting off the shelf the war. Stay steadfast in your focus on the later and try to avoid the pull of the former. Go deep not wide and you’ll outperform those focused only on distribution growth.