The rest of the story of how we finally, after 3 years trying, got into John Lewis.
I ended Part 1 of this article describing how for the second time (and second year), our bags got rejected from John Lewis. I looked at this positively in that at least it was a different reason. The first reason was that the bags were not really nappy bags and the second reason was that the brand was too new.
There was nothing much i could do but let time go by and make sure that during that time, Goodordering's reputation, social following and press grew as much as possible.
I gave it a year and then got back in touch with the buyer only to find out that my contact had left. I just looked back through my old emails and found that actually the new buyer contacted me asking for some information and prices on the range.
She made it really clear that there would be no guarantees and after i sent through information on the brand and product, she really pushed me for information on press. I can't stress how important this was for her.
It was early July 2016 at the time and this is an email extract
"By all means please send over a sample. What I do need to know is whether you are expanding your changing bag range and any press that you have had. I am away from tomorrow so we can pick this up mid August. I cannot guarantee we will stock this line with it being 1 SKU. It might be worth you looking for a distributor that works with our Nursery office already."
The vast time frames between email contact was a little stressful at this time, especially around the time of year that this took place - being July / August when you have no idea when people are coming and going from summer vacation.
The fact that i had only one style that was specifically a buggy bag and I had never worked with a distributor before let alone know how i would get in touch with one. The sparse email contact, and the not giving anything away was definitely a feature of the communication.
I had offered to send the buyer some samples and had a few weeks up my sleeve whilst she was on holiday to make sure it arrived at her office when she got back. So i did a little bit of research and decided to put together a fun package.
As I'd been trying to get my bags into John Lewis for such a long time, it was really important that any chance I had for a touch point or contact with such a busy buyer was a chance to make a good impression.
Rather than the bag samples being just about being bags, i wanted to frame Goodordering bags as something much more sentimental. I also wanted to make the message clear about what differentiated my bags from the competition. Our bags are not nappy bags or changing bags, they are bags that can be used as a nappy bag, but the reason to buy it goes way beyond baby's first years.
Once you're baby turns into a small child, your buggy bag turns into a handlebar bag that you use on your bicycle.
I made a special trip around quite a few shops sourcing items for my themed gift box. Because it was summer, my aim was to create a 'festival in a box'. With all the things one might need for some fun in the sun.
I had sent boxes previously to buyers. One halloween i sent a halloween inspired box with spiders, sweets and an orange bicycle pannier. That one didn't really go down that well. The reason i think those ones didn't work and this one (as you would have guessed) did work, is because sending a box unsolicited, as generous as it might seem, is not really all that good. I think, now in hindsight, its actually a little detrimental. I think the best way to do it is to make contact with buyers first and then send a nice box. Otherwise, lets face it, it can be a bit creepy.
A couple of days after the buyer got back from holidays, i got an email from the buyer who seemed much friendlier. She suggested to actually introduce me to a distributor that they work with, and thanked me for the package. This is what she wrote,
Thank you for sending samples to us, it was a rather exciting box to open on a Thursday afternoon!
She also asked me a bit more about the collaborations that i mentioned. We had some next steps. The first of which was to get in touch with the distributor that she introduced me to via email.
I knew from a friend who had had lots of experience with distributors, that they alone are not easy to snag. I had tried before also, through my bike contacts to meet a cycling distributor, and whilst there are many, they don't seem to really like working with new or small brands. Many of them just want your product to fly off the shelf without them needing to do much, so i knew i had to impress the distributor and give them faith in me and Goodordering. For a distributor to take on a small or new brand, they need to see something in the potential of the brand.
After arranging to meet with the distributor, i packed up a few bags and went to see them at their offices. I was lucky enough for the MD to also be around and fortunately she also came to the meeting. It was a fantastic meeting and i felt we really connected and i was relaxed enough to be able to tell the story of Goodordering. I was also able to find out more about them as a business. At this stage, lets face it, i was probably not in a place to turn them down, but it did help a great deal that i was really excited about working with them. My contact at the distributor took a lot of time to explain to me their role, what they do, how they work with retailers and customers. She even showed me around their office and warehouse. I left the meeting feeling smarter and so happy, in fact, that i decided to give myself the rest of the day off!
The next steps we really for the distributor to officially agree to represent me in relationship to John Lewis, and once this had happened, there was still a long waiting time to hear back from the buyer. John Lewis still had quite a few demands with regard to the product. One of which was that they wanted a change mat to be included in each product for the same price and physically paced into each product on delivery.
Fast forward a few months, the official order came through. I had to fly a batch of change mats over from my factory in China to meet the delivery date. My warehouse also had to do a bit of re-packing. So far i have had 2 orders from John Lewis, and our bags only just last week were officially listed on their website.
Through this experience i learnt about barcodes, delivery windows, forecasts, negotiating price lists and i also learnt that even though you might get an order from a large retailer like John Lewis, orders are small, margins are tight and, even though we are now selling with John Lewis online, there is a far way to go before they agree to stock us in their physical stores. That would hopefully be part 3 of this story!
I hope that this article may help to shed light on the process of getting into a large retailer. If you have any questions about the article and the previous part 1, please leave them in the comments below and i'd be happy to answer them.
Author - Jacqui Ma, Founder of Goodordering, East London bag company
NOTE: If you are in the market for a nappy bag or know anyone who is, we'd love you to pass on the news that are now stocked there. Also, if you already are the proud owner of a Goodordering bag, we would love it if you could leave a review for us there on the John Lewis website.!! thanks!!!