STARTUPS OFTEN WORRY ABOUT THE WAY THEY PRESENT THEMSELVES, AND WHILE THIS IS A VALID CONCERN, HAVING A GREAT PRODUCT OR SERVICE HAS TO COME FIRST.

While attending the Natural & Organic Products Europe show, we were lucky enough to listen to a talk by Craig Sams, the founder (with his wife) of Green & Black’s

He needs no introduction. But if you do, here is a little bit of background on Craig:

He came to the UK in 1966 to open a macrobiotic restaurant. He opened SEED in 1968 with his brother, Greg. They followed this with Ceres Grain in 1969 and published a journal for 6 years also called ‘Seed, the Journal for Organic Living’.

In 1970 they set up Harmony Foods, which became ‘Whole Earth‘, now a very successful brand.

He founded Green & Black’s with his wife Jo Fairley in 1991. This was the first chocolate to carry the Fairtrade Mark. Initially, it was 70% cocoa, but later they progressed into milk chocolate and added a health warning about the sugar content on the back of pack (talk about believing in what you do). He also serves as a director of Duchy Originals and Gusto Organic.

That’s an impressive CV. 

His talk was full of amazing stories, like tripping on acid with Pete Townsend while walking across Vauxhall Bridge and meeting Yoko Ono.

So we really wanted to talk with him. What insights could we gather?

People used to use their name when starting a business. The person behind a brand can be a large part of the reason why someone might choose a brand, especially if the company has a passionate founder. After all, interacting with an anonymous entity is not very appealing. Using their name didn’t hurt Marks and Spencer, Stella McCartney, Morrisons, Selfridges or Sainsbury’s, but this happens less and less these days, especially in the UK.

This is not right for everyone. We didn’t name our company after ourselves (although many design agencies do) as we felt the names didn’t sound right together and our egos are not that inflated. 

There is no 'one size fits all' approach, you need to do what’s right for you and your business.

We talked with Craig and asked him what his take on this was.

WE ASKED HIM WHY HE HAD NEVER STARTED A BUSINESS UNDER HIS OWN NAME.

His reply made a lot of sense. He didn’t think that his name was particularly strong for a brand, but also he wanted the name to belong to the business. He told us the story of a jewellery designer who sold her business, then started up another business but couldn’t use her name as it belonged to the previous business.

It’s good advice if you are thinking of starting a business with an exit strategy, use a name that belongs to the business, not you.

WE ALSO ASKED HIM TO TELL US MORE ABOUT HIS BRANDING AND PACKAGING JOURNEY.

He started Green & Black’s with his wife, Josephine Fairley. He had been sent some organic cocoa beans and made up a bar of chocolate. He ate half and his wife spotted the half-eaten bar and helped herself. She’d never tasted anything like it and a business was formed. Jo came up with the name. ”Green” stands for the environmental concerns of the founders, and “Black” for the high cocoa solids chocolate they wished to provide.

Craig told us that they designed the logo themselves and had it drawn up by a designer they knew down the road. They printed the labels on their new inkjet printer, which was expensive at the time, but when they started they didn’t want to go back to a designer every time they needed to amend a comma. 

They were an early lean startup!

One day they got a call from Pearlfisher who said ‘we have been eating your chocolate every day but we think we can do your packaging better’. Pearlfisher gave them 9 designs and they ended up with an evolutionary version of the original one. Green & Blacks went on to be an amazing success and a Fairtrade pioneer.

This highlights the importance of having a good product in the first place, if Craig and Josephine hadn’t had great chocolate when they started, the best branding and packaging would have made very little difference. Startups often worry about the way they present themselves, and while this is a valid concern, having a great product or service has to come first.

Today, among other things, Craig Sams serves as director of Duchy Originals, the Soil Association and is the co-founder and Executive Chairman of Carbon Gold Ltd, a carbon sequestration company that’s developed biochar products, a natural soil improver. He also has an excellent account of Green & Black’s on his website

Many brands have stands at trade shows. These are expensive to exhibit at, so the following advice given by Waitrose buyer Joanna Lynch during the Natural and Organics Products Europe show may be helpful:

TOP TIPS:

KNOW YOUR PRODUCT AND INGREDIENTS INSIDE OUT.

Have a passion for your product and the industry, but don’t be arrogant.

UNDERSTAND YOUR PROCESSES.

This includes your pricing and how that works.

BE FRIENDLY!

Joanna couldn’t emphasize this enough. Don’t be afraid to say hello, but don’t be pushy.

INTRODUCE YOURSELF – BUILD A RAPPORT!

Don’t be shy, say hello, buyers won’t bite you. A great looking stand will, of course, help, but if you’re staring at your phone instead of trying to engage with visitors, your day will be a lot harder.

ASK QUESTIONS!

What's your name?

Where do you work?

What do you do?

Don't just stand there silently while someone looks at what you’re showing on your stand. These three key questions will help you work out if there is something, in particular, you should be telling them about.

TAILOR YOUR PITCH ACCORDINGLY.

If after you asked a few questions if someone introduced himself/herself as a sun cream buyer, don’t start telling them about your best selling product if that happens to be a lip balm. They might find that interesting, but won’t be able to do anything with it if they’re not buyers for that category. Pitch what’s relevant to them.

DON’T TELL THEM EVERYTHING.

Spending a day at a tradeshow can be a daunting process, you can easily feel overwhelmed by the number of stands and products on display. Keep it short and to the point.

LEAVE A BUSINESS CARD, NOT A LEAFLET, IT’S EASIER.

Joanna said she’s often given many leaflets and brochures during the day, but when she wants to get in touch with the person she chatted with, she finds herself with just a handful of business cards with the contact details she needs. Don’t forget yours and make it distinctive.

"WORK OUT WHY YOUR PRODUCT COMPLEMENTS WHAT THE BUYER ALREADY HAS ON THE SHELF INSTEAD OF CANNIBALIZING IT"

We met Waitrose Buyer Joanna Lynch at the Natural and Organics Products Europe show. She gave a talk advising brands wanting to stock their products in Waitrose, she’s a buyer for Medical, Healthcare and Wellbeing in the Family, Household and Personal Care team. 

These are the main points from her talk:

WHAT FRUSTRATES BUYERS:

These are the main points from her talk:

Long e-mails.

Be mindful of buyers’ time, they get hundreds of emails a day. Communicate effectively, be friendly in tone, keep it simple.

Long presentations.

Just as with e-mails, long presentations should be avoided. Make sure to cover what’s your point of difference, how you stand out, show understanding and knowledge of your products, the category and the market. Keep your presentation to the point.

Chasing e-mails or phone calls.

If they like your product they will contact you. Don’t keep chasing them. Remember, you need to be someone they want to work with. A well-prepared e-mail and presentation is more likely to earn you a response from buyers, chasing them is likely to do the opposite.

Not knowing your figures.

Buyers will definitely know theirs. If you try to make something up, exaggerate or simply don’t know key figures, buyers will spot it. They need to be able to build a relationship with you. If you fail here it won’t be a good start. Know your markets, growth, dynamics, competitors etc.

Samples. Don't send them unless they ask for them.

They get loads of samples, if they want them they will ask. Buyers are constantly asked to keep on top of piles of samples they didn’t ask for. Don’t become part of that pile, be helpful.

WHAT EXCITES BUYERS:

Suppliers who understand the client and their customer really well.

Never underestimate this, as it’ll not only help you drive sales but keep customers.

Understanding of the market.

Having a great product is, of course, essential, but an understanding of the market will help you reach your customers in the most effective way.

Point of Difference.

Do your research and work out why your product complements what the buyer already has on the shelf instead of cannibalizing it. Buyers won’t be excited if they have a brand that already covers the need you’ve identified. This is especially important in the beauty section, where products have a long shelf life.

A partner they can work with.

It’s much easier to work with someone you feel you can trust and with whom you’ve built rapport, don’t forget that.

Passion.

Not only is it contagious, but you equate someone who is passionate about what they do with someone who is committed to it and will work hard to make it work. Naturally, buyers find this appealing.

Category Focus.

Don’t spread yourself too thin, chances are that if you dip your toes into too many ponds you won’t get to know any of them particularly well. It’s much easier to work with someone who shows commitment to a particular sector.

Designed by Good People have worked with many brands that have had listings in supermarkets. We work with other people who can offer advice, like Tessa Stuart who conducts excellent in-store brand research. If you have a question or have any experiences with getting (or not getting) your products into supermarkets, please comment.

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