Hot or not: how to introduce new product lines into your store

In the neverending quest for improvement, it is important to introduce new products or categories into your store and see if your customers take to them. But where do retailers go looking for new additions to their shelves?

How do they decide which ones will be a success and what criteria determine whether that success has been achieved?

Constant assessment of your own products allows you to see where potential improvements can be made, while looking at current trends – whether national, local or just in your own store – can offer inspiration for where new life can be breathed into a category.

“I like moving things around,” says Amish Shingadia, from IAA Best Overall Shop 2021 Londis Caterways in Horsham, West Sussex. “We look at current trends and trade press and Booker’s planograms. Then we look at our competitors and see what they have in store. We look at our facings to see if there’s a trend in our customer base. For us, sugar-free soft drinks are a big trend in the market and we’re looking to expand upon that in our range.”

Examining what your local competition is selling (and if it’s selling well) is a good way to inspire yourself. Anita Nye, from Premier Eldred Drive Stores in Orpington, looks at trade magazines such as RN and Retail Express, WhatsApp groups, new promotions from Booker and also what other retailers are selling to find products that she think will make a difference in her store. “We’re always looking out for things that are slightly different,” she says.

Once you’ve installed your new product, you then need to assign a time period to assess its worth. Shingadia leaves it three months until his next assessment, but Nye gives them up to six months. “When something first comes out it’s on promotion usually and that’s all well and good, but when it goes back to normal price, that’s when we find out if it’s working with customers,” she says.

Look for supplier support

Andrew Dunning, from Stanwix News in Carlisle, considers two things before he brings a new product into his store: whether it will sell, and what deals and support the suppliers are offering. Whether it will sell can depend on the seasons, customer age groups and demographics, and brand recognition. “I could put in a new flavour of Lucozade and that would sell itself just because it’s Lucozade and it’s new,” he says.

Support from manufacturers is a considerable incentive for him, though. “SBF used to come to me with a new product, but I would always ask about the price.”

If he can get good deals or margins to introduce something, then he’s far more likely to give it a try. “You look to see who’s manufacturing it and what support they’re putting behind it,” he says. “You see what the cash and carry has on promotion, and you can still see deals coming.”

Avoid cannibalising existing products

New products can increase sales, but it counts for little if those sales are replacing products you already had in store. Space is at a premium in stores and Amish Shingadia, from Londis Caterways in Horsham, West Sussex, advises against a wide range just for the sake of it. “We have a small store, so, for example, we only sell two types of water,” he says.

“We try to have two complementary products – you might go one premium and one lower tier. A lot of retailers go for too much range which cannibalises sales. The Tesco Local model has a certain amount of range, but they’re very brutal with it and it works.”

Before he introduces a new product, Shingadia looks at where he can make space for it, if necessary by removing an existing product. “We look at each space every three months, assessing how much it’s generating and if there are any trends,” he says.

Ask around to gauge demand

Anita Nye, from Premier Eldred Drive Stores in Orpington, watches her customers for clues. “We tend to wait until five customers have asked for a product. If there are only two people asking for something and then they only buy it once then we’ve potentially bought something that’s sitting on the shelf doing nothing,” she says.

“We started doing Pop Toys in our sweet shop. We ordered 60 and they went in a single day,” she says.

She finds it frustrating when supermarkets or other wholesalers get new launches before her as it hampers her ability to keep her range relevant. It can also be hard to monitor a product’s potential in her store just by looking at other stores. “What sells in one region may not sell where we are. Even something that sells a mile and a half away might sell better than where we are,” she says.

The importance of media

Peter Bhadal, from Londis Woodhouse Street in Leeds, gets most of his products from his wholesaler rather than ad-hoc purchases. When he finds something new he will get it from them soon as possible. When it comes to selecting what will work, media coverage is absolutely critical to his decision.

“The media helps me understand what’s happening,” he says. “They talk about products that are coming and it keeps it in the forefront of your mind. They explain why the product has been launched, how it works within the category and how it would fit. It gives you time to make space.”

Additionally, if a product has a media campaign behind it, customers will recognise it even if they’ve not come into the store specifically for it. Bhadal takes many things into account when monitoring a product’s success, like weather and the time of year.

Don’t forget online trends

AJ Singh usually gives his products four-to-six weeks before deciding whether or not to stick with them, but a combination of factors has contributed to him spotting big sellers before this time has elapsed.

These are: knowing his demographic, looking at online trends and trying to have something his competition does not. “In our spirits category, anything new we put out goes straight away because our customers are spirits drinkers,” he says. Online trends are crucial, as they will attract customers from far and wide; as a purchase based on customer demand, trending products are among the most guaranteed to sell as soon as they become available.

“We introduced a Jolly Rancher Slush machine after we saw it trending in America,” says Singh. “It was a big outlay of £10,000, but we do 100 cups a day.”

Top tips

1 LOOK AROUND: There are lots of places to find inspiration for newly launched products or products that would be new in your store. Trade press, wholesalers, social media and your own customers are key avenues to explore.

2 CONSIDER YOUR DEMOGRAPHIC: Not every new trend or product will work in every store. Think about what your customers are looking for and how a new product will land with them.

3 DON’T ADD PRODUCTS FOR THE SAKE OF IT: If you want to bring something new into your store, consider if it will add sales or simply take sales from an existing product.

4 CONSIDER MEDIA SUPPORT: If a supplier is backing a product, new or old, with an advertising campaign, then its relevance to customers rises and its place on your shelf is worth more.

5 GIVE A PRODUCT TIME TO PROVE ITSELF: Promotional prices, new product hype and PoS can help to generate early sales, so make use of these as much as you can. But before deciding whether to keep it on, analyse how it sells without these helping hands.

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