Is your company vision aligned with how you’re growing your business and choosing your sales channel strategy? If it’s not, you’ll find yourself on a journey that you didn’t intend to and that takes away your energy. Join me for a conversation with Caroline Grace, a retail strategist for Emerging CPG Brands | Founder & CEO of Product & Prosper.
We discuss how to create a clear vision for the way you want to design your journey as a founder, the key foundational steps you need to build as a business, and creating a sales channel strategy that aligns with that. There’s lots of amazing content in this episode, so let’s dive in.
Startup to Scale is a podcast by Foodbevy, an online community to connect emerging food, beverage, and CPG founders to great resources and partners to grow their business. Visit us at Foodbevy.com to learn about becoming a member or an industry partner today.
Jordan Buckner: [00:00:00] Building and growing your emerging CPG brand, especially in this year that we're having, is really challenging and figuring out where to focus your energy and your time. Is something that a lot of you are asking me questions about, and so I wanna take a second and talk through really your vision for the company and what you want to achieve, and then how to go about getting those initial wins and building that success so that you can create , the business and the journey that you are intending to.
So joining me today to talk through this is Caroline grace, who is a retail strategist for emerging CPG brands. The founder and CEO of profit and prosper. And I'm sure you've seen a bunch of her posts on LinkedIn. And one in particular recently really got me thinking where Caroline was asking, what's your vision for your business?
Caroline Grace: Thank you so much, Jordan. It's funny because this is something that I've been thinking about a lot for my own business, but also for my [00:01:00] client's businesses. And you know, I think when we think about goal setting, they always ask you, , what's your 10 year goal? what are your quarterly rocks? Right? I think from that book traction. But when you think about it, right, what does that look like in a day to day? I wanted a way to understand , what do my clients need to work on right now in today, in this month? And that's what I've been thinking about right now.
And I know you run two businesses and you work with lots of different founders. I'd love to hear from your perspective, , what's happening from a goal setting perspective and how are people thinking about their businesses?
Jordan Buckner: Yeah, definitely. I love this. So, you know, , from what I've been thinking about, it's been a real revelation in terms of what it means to run and build a business and what your goals are.
You know, when I was in my twenties, I, like a lot of people thought like, Hey, I'm gonna build a business and sell in five years, become a millionaire and never have to work again. That did not work out. In fact , it. Failed. And I learned a ton from that. And now at this stage, I'm really focused on creating a sustainable journey and a business that, you know, I would love building for the rest of my life if I had to.
[00:02:00] And I can tell you mm-hmm. My stress level has gone from an eight out of 10 every day to a two out of 10. And it's been wonderful. And it's really that kind of, understanding of what you really hope to achieve in the life you wanna live. That . I found so important. So I'm curious to hear from your side, whether have you kind of thought from your business and then from your clients as well.
Caroline Grace: Yeah, I think there's a lot of things that , we're talking about, right? , there's a lot of things happening in the market right now direct to consumer. the cost of consumer acquisition is really high. There's not as many investors handing out money. I would say it's becoming harder to get investment. Retail is becoming more and more competitive. So there's all of these impediments that have been up and coming in this year, which I think has really shifted the conversation about how to scale businesses and it's shifted it to what does it look like , to scale a sustainable business or sustain scaling of your business.
And even beyond that, I think there's more focus. And there has been over the last few years in building founder-led businesses and beyond that right. Founder-led businesses means what does your [00:03:00] business look in your day-to-day life? Because you're not working with just, you know, you don't have this board of advisors, these investors anymore to report to you if you don't have investment.
So you become kind of that vision leader, that goal setter, and it has to be sustainable for your life. I like the idea of being a two out of 10 for stress. That would be ideal. Yeah, I think it's just that what's happening in the industry as a whole right now is shifting how we're thinking about running businesses and my business too it's something we're
Jordan Buckner: As you're talking with your clients, what are some of the goals that you are hearing from them for their businesses and what they want to achieve, and kind of dig a little bit deeper into their kind of personal visions? you know, how the business might affect them personally and their goals?
Caroline Grace: Good question. Typically, the question I start with is, where do you want to take your business and say 3, 5, 10 years that would make you really happy, personally and professionally? And what usually comes outta that , is either big retailer names or exits, or, you know, a revenue goal. And those are great.
Those [00:04:00] are awesome goals. I ask 'em to usually go a little bit deeper, right? Who are you working with on a day-to-day basis? Where are you working? Are you working a co-working space? Are you working from your house? Are you working from your manufacturing facility? How much are you making? Per month in your business so that , it embeds them a little bit further into the company and imagines them as a role shifts and shapes throughout , the scaling of their business.
So I think, you know, there's a, these top level goals, right? Exit the company, you know, make $10 million you know, get into Whole Foods, go to Target. Those are awesome, awesome goals. I think those should be goals for companies. But there's even deeper in terms of personal goals for the founder and for the team.
You know what does your life look like on the day to day?
Jordan Buckner: Yeah, I think that's so important. And here's what I've seen from my side at least, where founders start to think about that when they're set off to create their businesses, right? And they're thinking like, oh, I'm going to be my own boss and I'm gonna make my own decisions and run my own life.
And then I think , the biggest wall that people run into is that this is a very expensive business.[00:05:00] It's going to take me a lot longer to make any money. I even can get to profitability and I need some type of funding just to have a shot, a chance at being successful. And so they end up getting rid of some of their goals or putting away some of their in kind of intentionality because they're just trying to survive, right?
If you don't have money, then there's no business. Mm-hmm. So I just need to tick wherever I can get I think one of that is kind of goes into the choices that founders make in terms of getting into retail. And so I know you're a big proponent of starting off small in retail, but also thinking about what's , your kind of the retailer that's gonna make or break your company.
So why don't you talk through how you're thinking about retail strategy for the clients that you're working with.
Caroline Grace: For sure. I think it really depends on where you're starting from, right? There are three proponents of growth, right? And that's distribution, demand, and dollars. And so if you have proof of those, if you have the dollars, if you have the demand and you have [00:06:00] the proof of those, then you should absolutely go look , for larger retail traction and look for larger distribution.
So go to those targets, go to those whole foods, go to the Erewhon because you can probably afford it with your dollars, and you have the demand to support the velocity off shelf. So when we think about that, If you don't have dollars or demand, then I would look at lower tier distribution, those independents and alternative retailers that you can typically find on faire or connect with on faire.
And then what I would do is I would set your sites on a good retail partner to start having a conversation with kind of that whale, you're going after and conquering, you know what I mean?
Jordan Buckner: Yeah. You know, I think that's a good point, really thinking about that distribution demand and, and dollars, because I can tell you, I think the exciting thing about this space is there's a lot of products that are really cool as kind of within the industry, but to be honest, there's probably little demand from customers at least in a accessible way. Right. And I went through this myself with my company [00:07:00] TeaSquares. We, made a tea infuse energy bar and looking back there were zero people going into a store looking for a tea infused energy bar. Even just how we were talking about, like, I never even went into the store looking forward to infused energy bar.
It was just like Solution that I kind of created over some testing where maybe I was looking for like energy in the form of an energy bar or something like that. Yeah, and so I think that's a big thing that people need to test out and figure out on the smaller scale is what is their product market fit and what do they need to tweak or change around their product or their messaging to really find that before taking on the larger opportunities.
Caroline Grace: Totally. Totally. And that's exactly where I was gonna go was what is the messaging that's going to generate demand? So for you, you know with your company, nobody really knew what a tea infused bar was, but people know what energy bars are. Right? So what's the kind of , the breakdown , of your pitch?
To consumers, but also to buyers. You're gonna start probably with energy bar because there's higher demands, and then your differentiating [00:08:00] factor is that it uses tea rather than coffee or a different form of caffeine. Right? So it's just like , a tiered approach to messaging. I think , we try to lead with innovation a lot in our messaging, and we have to lead with the preexisting category and then stand out through some sort of differentiating factor.
Within that category because that's how the consumer thinks. That's how the buyer thinks , down the road, right?
Jordan Buckner: Yeah. So , here's a question I hear a lot is some founders will say like, Hey, do I start with. Two dozen independents that aren't really gonna move the needle for my business and bring them a ton of cash, or do I sign up a Whole Foods or a Kroger or Sprouts kind of fairly early so that I can get the distribution to even really kind of test out in the market and start generating dollars.
What's your thought on it?
Caroline Grace: Hmm. Yeah, I mean, it's a great question and I think. One of the frameworks that I've been starting to develop is building your distribution . Building your C P G business is kind of like building a house. You need to ensure that your fundamental pieces, that basement, that foundation level, is secure [00:09:00] before you even start looking at bigger retailers.
So, yes, independents and alternatives, 12 doors. They might not, you know, generate that much cash flow, or they might not move the needle that much, but it might be the best for where you are right now. Parts of that basement level. Parts of that foundation are things like product, and I'm asking questions like, is your product actually good?
And do you have proof of people liking it? Have you run a customer survey? Have you run focus groups to make sure, do you have reviews and testimonials that people actually like your product? So if , people don't like your product, you really shouldn't look at retail, you know what I mean?
Is your product innovative? Is it differentiated then production, right? Do you have the capacity to scale into retail and at what size you might be at the capacity right now to be scaling into independences and alternatives and look at Whole Foods down the road. Right? And then finally, I think there's this level of profitability.
And what I mean by profitability, it's kind of this margin, cash flow, run rate. Do you have cash to sustain a retail launch into Whole Foods, or should you look at smaller. Accounts right now [00:10:00] that might just move the needle a little bit, but will help you with a little bit more cash flow and ensure that you're testing and getting data so that you can support , those few things.
Jordan Buckner: I think that's a great way of looking at it. I'm a huge fan of that metaphor because I'm trained as an architect, so I like thinking about building a house, and I talked about this before. A lot of prove founders prove it. I know it's a fun fact about me. That's awesome. A lot of founders kind of think about.
Or start building and growing without having that foundation, quite frankly. And I think that's where a lot of the problems happen, because they're in distribution, they're getting more accounts and more doors, but maybe they realize every product they sell, they're actually losing money on because their margins aren't set or kind of Yeah.
Problems like that.
Caroline Grace: Yeah. I mean, I get a lot of pushback sometimes where opportunities come, Brands way, and of course I don't want brands to turn down opportunities if they're amazing opportunities. If Whole Foods buyers are coming to you, that means probably they're gonna support you or you're enough in the market. You have enough demands, you have enough eyeballs. I would say enough awareness in the [00:11:00] market to be in a Whole Foods, if that makes sense. So I'm not anti Whole Foods or anti-big opportunity, especially if the opportunity's coming to you. , I'm just more cautious in terms of do we have a base of support?
Do we have that foundation level of your business to sustain growth if we continue building the house?
Jordan Buckner: Yeah. And I think , that's a great way of thinking about it. I can tell you from my side as well, Whole Foods was the first larger retailer that we launched in three months after creating the business.
We launched in with TeaSquares in just regionally, kind of within the Chicago area, and those are really great testing ground. The Whole Foods was very supportive and we really loved working with them. The reality that we found with our product is that it required an insane amount of education to inform consumers and like what we were and why they should buy it. And as I mentioned, no one was going in the store looking for a product like us, so we had to interrupt every single shopper that would buy our product. And that got really, really expensive. We even did a new kind of packaging design and size change to make [00:12:00] the product more affordable and hopefully stand out.
And ultimately after a couple years, we ended up just pulling out of Whole Foods because we weren't able to see and generate that customer demand. Profitably as we were putting that in. And so that led us to kinda revise the entire product and go to market strategy because we did not have that strong foundation to continue growing there.
Caroline Grace: Interesting. Interesting. How many years ago was this?
Jordan Buckner: That was in 2017.
Caroline Grace: Okay. Yeah, retail was definitely changing. Were you in any sort of independence and alternatives at that point in addition to Whole Foods? Or was Whole Foods kind of your primary retail?
Jordan Buckner: They were actually the primary at the beginning.
We started growing in a couple co-ops and Okay, awesome. That we were testing in as well. And you know, I think it was good we didn't launch nationally or anything with Whole Foods, so we had the ability to kind of test and learn and try things out, which is great. That's great. So finding a retail partner was definitely helpful that was able to do that with us.
Caroline Grace: Yeah. What kind of tactics were you using at a store level , to educate
Jordan Buckner: the consumer? Demos? We were in the store demos. , every day we were in the store. Either my co-founder and [00:13:00] I, or we had some brand ambassadors , that we hired directly and when we were in store selling the product.
It was great. And we saw a sales lift from that. But I remember in particular, there was a customer that came, they were like, Hey, I saw your product on the shelf. It looked interesting and I didn't buy it. And now when I tried it and met the founder, like, oh, this tastes really great. But that in their end was the problem where people would see the product on the shelf if they saw it and still not buy it because we were not communicating clearly what the product was, who it was for, and why they should buy it.
Caroline Grace: Yeah. Yeah. I. Talk about how do you figure out what to communicate or how do you test that before you're on the shelf and before , you're having to spend money on education a little bit because I think, yeah, let's do it. Your experience is so, so valuable, and I see it happen quite often.
And it's no fault of your own, right? It's a brand. It's a business. It was an awesome opportunity. Right. , but how do you take a step back and. Put these pieces in place where you're not having to necessarily spend as much money to educate the consumer at the end retail placement.
Right? And I think it really starts [00:14:00] with, right , I have my basement level, and then there's this first floor and that first floor is everything from your category and your competitor landscape. Who is gonna be surrounding you on a shelf and how are they talking, how are they presenting themselves?
It's things like, do you understand your target market and your customer? It's things like your messaging and your pitch , and the sequence of , your pitch design packaging and overall cohesiveness to your brand education, as well as how do you test , those basic pieces of product , and you know, profitability and production.
Right. Would you add anything there?
Jordan Buckner: The other thing that I would say just is uniqueness is good to a point, but mm-hmm. One thing I always recommend to founders is that some of the products that do the best they're very grounded in the existing consumer demand and add one, maybe two additional quote, innovations that a consumer is looking for already.
Right? Yeah. And those are the products that take off because they have an understanding and say like, oh, I currently buy. Your competitor now, you're similar but better because you have this [00:15:00] additional benefit. Yeah, and it's very easy to understand
Caroline Grace: tangential innovation. A hundred percent Graza did this squeezy, you know, olive oil bottles halo Top did this locale ice cream, smart pop, did this locale, you know, popcorn.
Those make sense for a more conventional market for Absolutely. In a conventional category. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Super interesting. What kind of innovations are you seeing right now, or , what's happening at a founder level? What about people asking and talking about?
Jordan Buckner: Yeah, I think the. Big thing is a challenge that founders are having with either those initial sales or repeat.
I've seen, as you mentioned, this shift from to consumer, online to retail. And one of the biggest things I want founders to keep an eye on is that on D to C you can clearly see what your costs are because you can look at , your meta ad spin, you can look at your Google ad spin and see how many sales are coming in.
Retail is a lot murkier. So a lot of people say like, oh, look at this purchase order I get from X retailer, maybe through [00:16:00] a distributor. Then the check comes two months later and there's deductions and chargebacks. And they're not really sure what their marketing promotions are doing to drive direct sales.
And there's a lot more kind of hidden fees and things in there. And so a lot of founders feel like they're making progress in retail because of the initial orders, but they're actually sometimes losing money even compared to what they were doing on D to C.
Caroline Grace: Yeah, I think it's, we're at a really interesting time because we have all of these e-comm native founders.
D to C founders who are used to digital tools for reporting and seeing immediate feedback from their tests and from spend. And they are starting to transition into physical retail where , I would say the technology isn't a Shopify level or a meta level quite yet. And one of the things I'm noticing right now is all of these different startups that are coming up out in connecting digital experience technology, either in a reporting sense or a customer sense or marketing sense , or even a C R M sense connecting that to [00:17:00] a retail system. So I think that's gonna be a big topic of conversation coming up. And one of the next levels of innovation in C P G that we're gonna see from a provider standpoint is gonna be along that retail reporting or retail tracking , or technology that supports retail entry?
Jordan Buckner: Yeah, I definitely think so. You know, one platform that I know you work in a lot and I've been using recently myself is faire and they've been kind of mm-hmm. Kind of creating this digital marketplace , especially for independents and small retailers, and a lot of brands I know get signed up.
Some do really well, some. See, like one or two sales come in. But it can be a really great way to reach some of those independents that you're talking about and provide some of , the data a little bit as well. What's your thoughts on faire and kind of what the most successful brands are doing , to grow in there?
Caroline Grace: Yeah, I think faire is absolutely wonderful. It is taking that transaction. And , it's helping move that transaction forward for independent and alternative retailers and brands. Now [00:18:00] that being said I've tested tons and tons of things. on faire. There's certain things that you need to do in order to have your profile show up or get more orders on faire. And it's a marketplace, right? You can't just put it on there and let it sit. It's not gonna be your website. People aren't gonna really comment , and visit it. You have to incorporate it into your sales process, into outreach to these independent alternative retailers to kind of kickstart the algorithm showing you on faire. Beyond that, , I would say, Definitely keyword. Optimize your entire profile. Use ChatGPT to help you keyword optimize make your profile clickable. It's like Amazon, it uses very, very similar principles, but , it's smaller, right? So it's a smaller search algorithm than Amazon is. It's much easier and more approachable.
Jordan Buckner: No, I love that. And then what are some of the key areas , to optimize , for a brand who's just getting started? Yeah.
Caroline Grace: Yeah. So the first thing I would look at is what is the suggested category that fair is putting you into? And whatever that category keyword is, [00:19:00] incorporates that somehow into the rest of , your profile.
So put it into your brand story, , your bio, put it into your product descriptions, put it into your product names. That's kind of that first thinking piece that I would look at. Keyword optimization. Beyond that, I would look at your images. So I know Faire says, put it on a white background. I actually recommend not putting it on a white background because then you stand out more in the search.
Right. So I would make your profile clickable. And then the other thing I would look at is how are you incorporating it into your existing sales process? Add it to your sell sheet that you're on faire. Add it to your wholesale inquiry page, add it to your email signature. Any sort of click-throughs that you can get through to faire, then that'll help you serve you higher in the algorithm.
And there's two places that you either get discovered in faire. It's through search terms on the featured page or from your referral to fair
Jordan Buckner: ooh, I love those. There's definitely juicy tips in there. Caroline, thank you so much for joining today and talking through this. I think the. Obstacles that [00:20:00] founders are facing right now , are numerous.
But by having that clear vision as we talked through creating a retail strategy and maybe faire is part of that growth to get to independence to really test out that beginning market. I think that there is a lot emerging brands can really accomplish.
Caroline Grace: Yeah. Awesome. Thank you so much, Jordan.