by Carolyn M. Brown -blackenterprise.com
Many entrepreneurs dream of getting their products into large retail stores. A key strategy is to start small and expand your customer base. That’s the approach Arsha and Charles Jones, 36 and 40, are taking. The Washington, D.C., area natives are the proprietors of Capital City L.L.C. which makes Capital City Mumbo Sauce.
The sweet, tangy condiment similar to barbecue or plum sauce is a staple wing sauce in the District. The husband-and-wife team started out selling their mumbo sauce online but now sells it in about 18 retail stores in the Washington, D.C., metro area; the sauce is also on the menu at three restaurants. “We decided that we would get into local retailers first, instead of going after big box stores,” says Arsha.
Generally, big box retailers will not sell a new item without seeing how it has performed for smaller retailers. Ideally, buyers want to see one to two years of sales history that reflects healthy, consistent sales.
Developed in the Joneses’ home in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2011, Capital City Mumbo Sauce averages about $5,000 in sales a month. The company generated gross sales of $16,000 in 2011; $21,000 in 2012; and $53,000 in 2013 (about 50% directly from online). Arsha projects 2014 sales will reach $85,000.
In addition to selling online, the Joneses peddled their wares at a local farmers market. There they met and eventually partnered with the only other African American vendor at the market, a local poultry vendor that sells organic, free-range chicken. Murry’s, a retail food store and the couple’s largest client, carries the mumbo sauce in about 11 of its stores.
The couple first came to make their home-style mumbo sauce after they had difficulty finding it in the suburbs. Wondering if other people in the area were also looking for it, the couple went online and discovered that they were. They compiled a mailing list that they maintained for six months. After identifying an online retailer that sold bottles wholesale, the husband-and-wife team were soon making the sauce on their kitchen stove and selling directly to consumers. They did the bottling, labeling, and shipping themselves.
After appearing in an article about mumbo sauce on the front page of a Sunday edition of the Washington Post, they were overwhelmed with orders for hundreds of bottles that took two to four weeks to fulfill by hand.
Today, the Joneses work with a manufacturer in North Carolina that produces the sauce and handles the bottling, labeling, and shipping. They were referred to several manufacturers but found the one they liked by doing their own research online.
“We went down there and gave them our recipe, which is kept private,” says Arsha. “You go through the entire process the first time to make sure it tastes the way you want it to when they scale it up from little pots to 150-gallon drums.”
She notes that partnering with large retailers requires having a system in place that can produce a large quantity of product in a short period of time. “To work with the Walmarts or Targets of the world, you have to be able to fill their orders,” she says.
The Joneses are looking to get Capital City Mumbo Sauce into Whole Foods Market and Walmart, which is building several stores in the District. “Every year we’ve had to expand,” says Arsha. “First it was to get online sales, then it was to get it into local stores based on demand, now it’s to take the brand to every major retailer in the area so that we can go national.”
5 Tips to Winning Shelf Space
Your ultimate goal may be to win shelf space in Walmart or Target, but big box retailers will want to see evidence that your product sells.
- Do your research. Find out what retailers need. Walk the aisles carrying brands and products similar to yours. Be able to show where your product can fit in.
- Contact a retail buyer to arrange an appointment. Prepare a brief presentation. Bring product samples to demonstrate their value and marketability.
- Provide testimonials from satisfied customers or comments on social media sites to back up your product claims.
- Provide details of product sales to date, including sales from online, brick-and-mortar stores, or alternative venues.
- Attend trade shows. This is a valuable way to meet various smaller retail buyers who can test or sample your product on the spot.
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