What makes a brand story sexy? What gives the appearance of a healthy and strong business? What gives friends and family the impression that you are killing it? Distribution gains. Fast and furious. 

What causes you to lose sleep at night and wake up in cold sweats? Distribution gains. Fast and furious.

Let me be clear. Fast growth isn’t the enemy. That’s not what I’m saying at all. Growth that is intentional and smart is the name of the game. Know what you are getting into. Be intentional with your decisions. Run the numbers. With every opportunity, with every retailer. If the economics of the deal don’t show a path to making money with the new distribution, then you are looking at a fast lane to defeat.

Know when to say NO

Knowing when to say no is a super power in CPG. This understanding is the key to the kingdom. It comes down to being Nice versus being Kind. Being nice to your brand/business would be taking on all the new distribution and growing the brand as fast as possible. It’s sexy at parties. It feels good for people to see your product in more places, but it is the fastest way to run out of money and be forced to close up shop. 

Being kind to yourself and your business, on the other hand, is fully understanding the expenses associated with distribution gains. Factor in all of the costs. There is a cost to carry increased inventory, there is the cost of production, there are new customer acquisition costs, etc. If those haven’t been factored in and aren’t being considered, ask yourself, why would you say yes?

Saying no to a retailer that wants to bring in your brand doesn’t have to be an actual “no.” It very easily becomes a “not yet.” Buyers and category managers will have respect for the intentionality behind this. They will respect the fact that you fundamentally understand your business in a way to know that the time isn’t quite right…yet. 

There are options to ‘No’

There are options. It doesn’t even have to be “yes” or “no” or “not yet.” Open a dialogue with your category manager. You could propose limited distribution with the new retail partner. You could ask to take on 50 or 100 stores instead of 2,000. Whatever number of doors that you can sufficiently afford and support. Then you can dive in deeply to really understand what it takes to be successful in those doors. It is a lot more expensive to be successful in 2,000 doors than in 50. Understand your customer and the retailer’s shoppers and how your brand will fit.

Don’t get me wrong, In no way am I suggesting that you should limit retailer outreach or connection. I offer to you that this may be one of the best levers to drive smart future business. But just know when and how you can be the most successful. Your business and future self will thank you.

The name of the game is Intentionality. Be educated about your business and your numbers. Be educated about the retailer you are talking to. If you don’t know what their customer profile is, just ask. If you don’t know their velocity thresholds, just ask. There are no silly questions. It is your job to know. If you don’t understand, find someone who can teach you. Be a student. Then make educated, intentional decisions about the business. Not the brand, but the business. No brand will survive if the business behind it isn’t solid.

I have seen successes and I have seen failures in my time as a founder in this Industry. There are always going to be mistakes and missteps, but do your best to make sure they aren’t the big ones. Learn the lessons the easy way. Learn from others’ mistakes. Find Advisors that have been there and understand the landscape. Listen to them and make informed decisions. It will save you some cash and plenty of gray hair.

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