One of the benefits of being a RangeMe Starter or Premium subscriber brand is the opportunity to submit products to buyers who have immediate, limited-time opportunities that take place throughout the year. During these campaigns, retailers, distributors and foodservice operators invite brands that meet specific criteria to submit their products to be considered for placement on the shelf or in a menu. 

The reason why this is such a great opportunity is a matter of timing. When one of these limited-time campaigns is held, it means the buyers are actually searching for a product in their category, and for brands with products in that category, there is no better time to have these products in front of them. Indeed, it’s the most proactive way for a brand to leverage the RangeMe platform.

GearHaul is a perfect example of this. The RangeMe Premium subscriber brand markets products – all manufactured in Kansas – that safely and securely transport outdoor equipment such as chainsaws, buckets, and assorted tools. It caters to a very niche market, and getting its products in front of the right retail buyers would be a daunting task if it had to do it all on its own. But within just a couple of years, GearHaul secured deals with four of the largest retailers of outdoor equipment: Walmart, Lowe’s, Tractor Supply Co. and Rural King – each accomplished via retailer campaigns hosted by RangeMe.

“I have no idea how we would have gone about getting into these stores without RangeMe,” says GearHaul Founder Kenny Finley. “It has been such a blessing for us.”

In this post, we’ll cover GearHaul’s experience with these campaigns, and learn some best practices for success with them. But first, let’s start with a little background on the brand.

A happy accident

“I’m the idiot who ran over his chainsaw.”

This, according to Finley, is how the GearHaul got its start. He was a senior resident claims adjuster in his hometown of Chanute, Kansas, and during the slow winter seasons he would cut hedge posts and firewood to make some extra money. To make his job a little easier, his wife had bought him an expensive chainsaw as a gift. But just two weeks after he received it, the chainsaw bounced out of his tractor when it hit a pothole and was run over. 

The grief of destroying his brand new gift, however, served as a source of inspiration. “I realized that there was no good way to securely carry tools or equipment, and so I came up with a solution that would work on any mobile machinery,” says Finley. 

He built the first prototypes for his idea with the help of a CAD program and a local high school class that had access to 3D printers. What resulted was the SawHaul, a universal chainsaw carrier that can be mounted to practically any piece of equipment, such as pickup trucks, tractors, and utility task vehicles.

But Finley didn’t stop there. “Once we did that with the chainsaw, we expanded into other types of equipment such as weed eaters, long handle tools, gas and oil, literally anything that you use in the outdoor industry,” he says. “We started in the agricultural industry and once we built our brand reputation there we launched into the fire industry, then utilities and OEM. We can help any industry that utilizes equipment outdoors. It’s a niche demographic, but the niche is huge.”

While the demo may be huge, to spread the word, Finley went small – building his brand reputation one customer at a time, by using one of the most valuable skills any inventor has in his arsenal: the ability to listen.

Listening to the customer

Finley scoured Facebook to find every group he could that was related to outdoor equipment such as tractor groups, forestry groups, and utility groups, to name a few, and developed relationships with the admins and the moderators – in essence, those people who controlled the content of those groups. Through countless conversations with group members, they discovered potential early adopters of their equipment and then sent them some samples to try out in the field.

“You don’t ask them to promote the products,” says Finley. “We just asked them to use it for a while, and tell us what their thoughts were, whether positive or negative. Everyone expects to just hear the positive but that’s not what you need to hear.”

Over time, the feedback they received would help the brand evolve its products to better accommodate customers’ needs. For example, the SawHaul chainsaw scabbard was originally made without a tool holder attached to it. But when out in the field, chainsaw users need to carry tools for tightening and sharpening the saw’s chain. So a holder was added so that these tools were always handy. “It’s listening to the small things like this that helped us to change the designs for the better,” says Finley. 

This process was arduous, and involved countless hours in front of the computer engaging with group members one at a time. But the payoff that resulted was huge; GearHaul now has thousands of users on social media promoting the brand for them – including a ton of user-generated content on YouTube (see one of them on the right) – and Finley has become a bit of an influencer in the space. “We were at a Walmart a little while back when someone walked up to us and said, ‘Hey, it’s SawHaul Kenny! How are you?’ You just can’t buy that type of marketing.”

Armed with an array of products and a strong social media following, it was time to get into the big retail chains. And that’s where RangeMe came in. 

How RangeMe’s immediate opportunity campaigns work

The immediate opportunity campaigns that RangeMe hosts come in a variety of formats. For some, they take place solely on RangeMe; brands submit products through a custom link, buyers evaluate the products on platform, then request samples and hold follow up meetings offline on their own. (See the RangeMe blog post about Maddie’s Markets to see how this format was utilized). 

Other campaigns also involve a virtual or in-person buyer meeting component, often conducted by RangeMe parent company ECRM and occasionally held at one of its category-specific sessions in which the buyer is already participating. 

RangeMe Starter and Premium brands are alerted on the platform and via email about upcoming campaigns that match categories for which they have products.

Each of the campaigns in which GearHaul participated included buyer meetings. First, brands were invited to submit products to the retailer via RangeMe. Once the submission process closed, the retailers’ buyers evaluated the submissions on RangeMe and then made their selections as to which brands would qualify for the next step in the selection process, the buyer meetings. 

Because of this, brands looking to be considered in any sourcing campaign must be sure that their profile is strong, as that will be the first exposure to the buyers who are making their selections. The content must be thorough and complete, with eye-catching images that truly showcase the products. “You have to think of it as a living document,” says Finley. “You can’t just set it and forget it. It has to be up to date.”

The first campaign in which GearHaul participated was conducted by Rural King, which invited its selected brands to meet with buyers at one of its store locations. Following that, Finley submitted its products via RangeMe to Walmart’s Open Call. Once again he was selected, and met with buyers during an event held at its Bentonville, Ark. HQ (ECRM also hosts virtual buyer meetings during OpenCall). The third was Lowe’s annual Into the Blue program, which held buyer meetings at its headquarters, and finally was Tractor Supply Co., which also held virtual meetings. Each of these four sourcing campaigns resulted in deals for GearHaul. 

How Finley crushes his buyer meetings

Since each of these campaigns included a meeting component, and GearHaul made the cut to meet with buyers from each of the retailers, Finley had to be sure he was well-prepared for each meeting. Following is how he did it:

Doing his homework on the retailer

Even before applying for the campaigns, Finley knew the importance of researching the stores of those retailers he envisioned working with. “When I created the first prototype, I walked into a Lowe’s with it and was checking out where it would best fit on the shelves when an assistant manager asked what I was doing,” he says. “I told him that my product was going to be on their shelves one day and I was just picking my spot. He got a good chuckle out of it.”

Nothing can replace actually walking the store of a retailer you plan to pitch, to check out your particular category and how your product would best fit in it. However, if it’s not convenient to visit a store in-person, you can always check out their website to get some ideas. 

Leveraging RangeMe profile insights

Finley also taps into the profile insights available to all RangeMe Premium subscribers that provide metrics on buyer activity around a brand’s profile and products that would be helpful for the meeting. Once he gets his notification that GearHaul is selected to participate in buyer meetings, he keeps a close eye on that buyer’s activity to get a better handle on which of his products are garnering the most interest.

“You can watch them as it gets closer to the buying event, see what they are looking at, and how long they are looking at it,” says Finley. “If they are looking at two products and not any of the others, then you know that you want to focus on those two products in the meeting.”

Keeping the presentation simple and honest

When it comes time for the actual meeting with the buyers from these sourcing campaigns, Finley says it’s best to just be yourself. “We are who we are, good, bad or ugly,” he says. “Ninety-five percent of the time they probably have an idea of what they are going to do by the time you walk into the room. So we go in there, are honest, have integrity, don’t lie, and don’t over promise.”

Sometimes, a quick video can help. For the Lowe’s Into the Blue buyer pitch, Finley had a video presentation professionally made that would concisely explain their story and show their products prior to the discussion. “It saves time, because you are not going through it and repeating yourself,” he says. “Plus, it’s great to watch their reactions to the different parts of the video.”

While video may not be needed for some products, it can be helpful to visibly demonstrate how a product works, such as in the case of GearHaul. In this case, it paid off. From that buyer meeting he was ushered into an adjoining room to present to a VP at the retailer, and walked out with the largest purchase order they ever received. 

The value of patience and tenacity

Not all deals happen as quickly as the Lowe’s deal did, which is why Finley also notes that when it comes to pitching buyers, patience is key. Many things can happen that are outside of your control that may delay the process of bringing your products to the shelf; it’s just a part of life in the retail and foodservice space.

Rural King was a case-in-point. “We got accepted to pitch Rural King, but by the time we got there the original buyer was promoted to VP and the new buyer wasn’t ready to decide on it,” says Finley. “A year later, I reached out again, and there was a new buyer who happened to be very excited about it. So we went from a possibility of just online sales to getting in the stores just by continuing the conversation.”

And that’s not the only conversation Finley will be having. Soon he’ll be featured on The Blox, a competition TV show for startups that runs on Amazon’s Prime Video, and he’ll likely be testifying on Capitol Hill regarding unfair trade practices online. 

One thing he won’t be doing though, is running over any more tools.

Watch the full video interview with Kenny Finley here!

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