Sydney entrepreneurs Troy Douglas and Drew Bilbe share their experiences about getting their range of healthy beverage products on the shelves of a major Aussie supermarket chain.
When we first came up with the idea of launching Nexba – a natural, healthier beverage brand – the thought of being on the shelves of Australia’s leading supermarkets seemed like a dream. Now, four years on, Nexba is stocked in every Coles supermarket nationally and is the fastest growing beverage brand in the petrol station and convenience store channel.
It’s been an incredible ride building Nexba from a fledgling idea to a brand that has consistently grown each quarter in market share. It is one that we’ve learnt a great deal from and as two young entrepreneurs we are excited to have any opportunity to support other business owners and share our story.
Here are the key lessons we’ve gleaned about securing real, sustainable mass market success.
MAKE THE BIG MOVE WHEN IT IS RIGHT FOR YOU
For many entrepreneurs in fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), the thought of seeing your product on the shelves of the biggest supermarkets in Australia is a dream come true. While it is a major milestone for any brand, it’s important to consider if your business is at the right stage for mass-market reach.
Remember, you only get a few chances to make an impact, so take the time to consider if this move is right for you, as you don’t have the deep pockets to compete promotionally with multi-nationals who could see you as an unwanted competitor.
For Nexba, it made sense to test our product and attain success in other channels first. Many people are surprised to learn that getting ranged in supermarkets was never a priority for us. We recognised early on that to create real brand loyalty and organic growth, we had to focus our efforts on the petrol station and convenience store channel and school market first.
Many Australian start-ups have launched and failed. In Australia, the petrol station and convenience store is a hard market to crack, but it is one that allows you to track whether consumers who buy your product like it. If they do, they are more than likely to buy again, and over time your baseline sales of ‘cans in hands’, so to speak, will grow. Fortunately, since we launched into 7-Eleven in April 2012, Nexba has continued to grow, giving us key data to prove our brand’s success.
The decision to go into supermarkets needs to be right for your business. Before setting your sights on Coles and Woolworths, ask yourself if your business has a solid foundation and is set up for the challenge.
If you do decide that targeting supermarkets is right for your business, then go in with your eyes open and be prepared for contingencies. If you approach this with the right attitude, then you’ll be on a trajectory to success.
FOCUS ON DELIVERING A GROWTH STORY
To play with the big boys you need to be smart, and in many ways you need to be better. Start-ups don’t have the luxury of a big budget, but that can be an advantage.
Rather than compete, we have adopted the mantra that Nexba’s goal is to drive incremental sales in the ice tea category and attract new drinkers. With that mindset, we’ve been able to show key accounts that our focus isn’t to compete with the huge international brands, but rather to help make the category even bigger. If the buyer is a long-term thinker this will be an advantage for you. We were fortunate with our Coles partner, who is committed to supporting growth in the on trend lifestyle category.
Focus on developing your own growth story and consider what it is about your brand or product that might be attractive – not just to a consumer, but also to a buyer. Come to meetings armed with data to back up your claims and passion to sell your story.
PERSISTENCE IS KEY
When people don't know you or your brand, the hardest thing is securing meetings with decision makers. For Nexba, persistence paid off. We focused on understanding the needs of the people we met with. Before you meet with a potential key account, ask yourself: what opportunity can you offer to reward and grow their business?
In the very beginning when Nexba launched, it was about picking a key person in charge and being bold enough to approach them directly. Being confident and truly believing in your brand and product is the first step. In the very least, every meeting and new relationship will lead you to an opportunity or a new idea. Pick up the phone and back yourself.
BE A PART OF SOMETHING BIG
A quick wander down the aisle at your local supermarket shows there’s no shortage of new products. So what will set your apart from the rest?
Nexba’s point of difference is that we make natural, low-sugar beverages that are completely Australian made and owned. Our ice tea has 73 calories per can and Brewnette, Australia’s first natural cola infused with green coffee extract, has a fraction of the sugar content as other leading colas. Defining this point of difference and engaging buyers with our story was key to securing our launch into supermarkets.
Long-term however, the opportunity in Coles came about because our buyer understood that Australians want to drink better and have a greater selection of lifestyle beverages. We pride ourselves on being the beverage innovators, and our goal for Nexba is to create healthier beverage options for people who want to lead a healthier lifestyle. By explaining our market position to buyers, we were able to achieve a win-win situation and show our value to both the retailer and consumer.
You only have one chance to make an impact. We encourage other business owners to refine, reinvent, and challenge what is normal. Remember, supermarkets don’t need another ‘like me’ brand, so think divergently and create products that are extraordinary.
GROW A SUPPORT NETWORK
Nexba has undergone massive growth since launching in 2011, and we credit part of this success to our relationships with key thinkers and influencers. One of the most powerful lessons we’ve learnt at Nexba is that partnering with like-minded businesses and people can supercharge your growth.
As two boys in our 20s from Sydney, we don’t pretend to know all the answers, but we have learnt to build strong relationships with thought leaders to make sure we’re always making the smartest decisions for long-term growth.
Building a support network of people who believe in your brand, have experience in your industry and can connect you with the right contacts is invaluable to small business owners, especially when you are trying to achieve mass market growth. Our mantra is simple: surround yourself with the best, and your business will thrive.
Our most important piece of advice to other entrepreneurs who are looking to expand their market is to never stop learning, reinventing and challenging yourself to do better. Every challenge we’ve gone through has helped us set up a stronger business. All small businesses face hardships, but it’s strengthened our core. There will always be things that you look back on and wish you had done differently, but if you learn fast and don’t repeat mistakes, then you’re on the right path to success.
A HELPING HAND WITH RANGEme
Sydney start-up RANGEme, a Finalist in the Best Use of Technology category at the 2014 My Business Awards, was started by former marketing executive Nicky Jackson as an online platform to connect suppliers with Australia’s major retailers.
RANGEme (www.rangeme.com.au) enables suppliers to pitch to leading Australian retailers and buyers to review multiple product submissions more efficiently. The platform works by aggregating product proposals from hundreds of suppliers across multiple categories and placing them into a convenient online location where retail buyers can select, review and decide whether or not they are right for them.
RANGEme aims to solve the problems Nicky faced first-hand when developing a range of baby skincare products in 2013. The online platform helps SME business owners and suppliers who are targeting major retail chains to: get products ranged quickly and efficiently; launch products into new retail channels; increase distribution in current channels; and to keep track of buyer interest.
This feature was originally published in the February 2015 print issue of My Business. To read more in-depth features for SME business owners immediately upon publication, subscribe to My Business magazine now.