When the going gets tough, it’s said, the tough get going. Likewise, when traditional sales channels come up short, some tough-minded small-business owners find opportunities where few — or maybe none — have dared to sell their wares before.
Hammers? Aisle 3. Sinus spray? Right by the register.
GSC Products, based in upstate New York, manufactures a line of health and beauty products under its Greensations brand including an all-natural nasal decongestant called Sinus Plumber that, historically, was sold in health-food and drug stores. When a few hardware store owners contacted CEO Wayne Perry because they wanted a product to offer customers who were about to embark on dust-stirring, sinus-irritating projects, a light bulb of sorts went off in Perry’s head.
He soon pursued other hardware stores, where getting prime exposure next to the cash register is much easier and cheaper than in traditional outlets for these types of products, such as grocery stores and pharmacies. Now, his nontraditional channels, which include auto parts stores and doctors’ offices, contribute about 30 to 35 percent of his $350,000 in annual revenue and outsell the traditional venues by 40 percent on a per-location basis, Perry says.
Simplicity Sofas, based in America’s furniture-manufacturing heartland, High Point, N.C., makes sofas and chairs designed to fit into tight quarters, such as living spaces reachable via windy staircases, small elevators, or narrow hallways. The furniture arrives in modular pieces, and customers assemble the finished product themselves.
However, because Simplicity Sofas is an online-only retailer, letting customers see, touch, and try the product was a challenge for company CEO Jeff Frank (pictured). “It was a relatively expensive product [at upward of $1,100 for some items], and no one had heard of us at first,” he says.
But some customers liked the furniture and their buying experience so much, they volunteered to show off the pieces they’d bought so prospective buyers could evaluate it for themselves. That spurred Frank to pursue the sales strategy proactively: He now offers $50 to customers who let prospects into their homes to see Simplicity Sofa’s wares. It’s been seven years now and $4 million in sales. The strategy is working.
Cruising for Customers
Reverie manufactures mattresses and adjustable beds in its Eden, NY, factory. While attending a trade show, a conversation CEO Martin Rawls-Meehan had with a representative of Celebrity Cruises led to the beds being placed on six of the cruise line’s ships. This enabled travelers to try the Reverie product overnight instead of just a few minutes in a bedding showroom. In-cabin signs identify the mattresses, so travelers who like their sleep experiences know which brand to look for after they disembark.
The idea of pursuing nontraditional sales channels has since prompted Rawls-Meehan to market his beds at other nontraditional venues, such as at CrossFit competitions. Because these fitness professionals had a keen interest in their overall health, and getting a good night’s sleep was key to that objective, Reverie’s adjustable design appealed to them.
“It’s important to think about unmet customer needs in these nontraditional markets, and how to address them,” Rawls-Meehan explains. “The opportunity in these nontraditional channels is that they are uncharted territory for creative marketing and selling. The flip side is that there is no surefire path to success, which means higher risk and more work upfront.”
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