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Avoid Shelf Potatoes: Do It Right the First Time

Avoid Shelf Potatoes by succeeding the first time. This is critical both with retailers and inside your company. Consumers are more forgiving.

A shelf potato has failed in its first attempt to make a first impression. And that means that corporate and retailer politics may be stacked against efforts to make them come alive.

So, the most important Shelf Potato lesson is that AVOIDING them in the first place is your best way to success.

How can products avoid becoming potatoes? Learn from the lessons here. Know when you need communication to drive a product and either supply that communication or don’t proceed with introduction. Use research (and honest introspection) to detect problems ahead of time. Negotiate carefully with retailers to ensure the right placement. And, avoid putting a product at mass retail before you’re ready. Quite often, retail merchandisers will love a product but not be the best judges of the challenges it will face on the shelf.

From the School of Hard Knocks… Unfortunately, this simple idea turns out to be much harder in the reality of company operations.

I once dealt with a classic shelf potato – a product where people who owned it loved it. But, without communication the product sat on the shelf.

We knew communication was critical from early research. And, in a key 8 hour strategic meeting, the entire team (marketing, finance, sales, development, production, advertising) concluded that this product should be introduced slowly – not with big box retailers until we had the right communication in place. Except, one week later, the sales team sold the product into big box with an agreement to put it on their shelves day one.

Despite this violation of management trust (another issue entirely), the company let the product hit the shelves without communication and without a strong plan for getting that communication out. It took 4 more months to get good communication in place. But by that time, the big box stores decided the product was a dud and kicked it out. Then, the client cancelled the product because of big box experience (and some uncontrolled costs from over-design).

I know there’s no guarantees in the world of new products, but this one would have sold with the communication. (My team has had superb results using a strategic and sales-oriented research approach to figure out how to create success.) Instead, the sales team got greedy and that led to the failure. (It’s a rare corporation who is willing to walk away from a big box order – even when it’s against the their best interest.)

So, always care about that first impression with your team and at your retail partners. But worry less about consumers who are much more forgiving – and often never even hear about these products because they fail so quickly.

All too often, great products who have a poor first rollout descend into Shelf Potato status and never get the second chance that might bring them alive.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett

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