Seeing your product instore is an amazing feeling when you're a startup - but first you have to pitch, target, and refine your offering. The team behind Fools & Queens, Aly Johnson and Matt Heath, started off at farmers' markets but always knew that high-end stores, such as Fortnum & Mason, were the end goal - the perfect fit for their low-fructose and gluten-free traditional puddings. We asked them a few questions about the process.

What stage were you at when you won the contract?

We had just launched Fools & Queens. We had decided earlier that year (2015) to do our first trade show and thought what better way to launch our business than at it. We chose Lunch (a trade only, food-specific show) and on the first day of the event one of the other exhibitors grabbed us and pointed out the Fortnum & Mason buyer. Co-founder Matt ran after them and invited them back to our stall to try our sugar-free puddings - the rest, as they say, is history! Well, sort of.

We had a very fortuitous two-pronged approach with Fortnum & Mason. We were selling at London farmers’ markets at the time and one of our customers was a journalist who had a social media connection with the CEO of Fortnum’s, so she reached out to him (unbeknownst to us) informing him that he HAD to have our puds. That was apparently enough of a recommendation for him because he contacted us straight away, asking us to get in touch with his buyers (which we had already been doing).

Did you approach a wide range of retailers, or did you decide early on to concentrate on high-end retailers?

We approached as many (high-end) retailers as we could think of - we developed a targeted sales plan and worked from it. We knew from the off the type of outlets we wanted our puds retailed in, so that helped us shape the sales plan. We knew in order to keep our brand messaging clear we would have to mainly approach high-end retailers, and for the most part that has paid off.

Fools and Queens - How we got stocked in Fortnums

Who did you approach, and how did you find the right person?

We used social media and LinkedIn to get emails and names. We would reach out to the buying team on social media, asking if they wanted a sample or two. If that didn’t work we would find the name of the buyer or the name of a buyer in the team, via LinkedIn, and contact them directly.

What was the pitching process like? How did you prepare?

For Fortnum’s our pitch wasn’t a typical pitch per se - by the time we met with the buyer (after the Lunch show) we had had the nod of approval from the CEO and so it was just to go through paperwork. We have had to pitch to other buyers since and for those we put together a pitch presentation, a quick powerpoint document outlining our key points:

  • who we are
  • why we are the best
  • why they should stock us
  • how we will make them money
  • future plans for world pudding domination, the usual.

(Don’t forget to take hard copies of the presentation with you - be prepared for an IT failure. It might not happen, but you don’t want to take the risk!)

Fools and Queens - How we got stocked in Fortnums

How long did the whole process take?

We met the Fortnum’s buyer at the end of September 2015; the journalist contacted Fortnum’s CEO, on our behalf, at the beginning of October; we started filling in paperwork in November and then some more in December; they launched us into their Piccadilly food hall on New Year’s Eve 2015. We have been supplying them weekly ever since.

Any other tips?

We found it tough at first to get any traction with buyers and you think because you aren’t hearing back straight away that they don’t want you, but that isn’t the case. Most of the time buyers are swamped - constantly being approached by so many different suppliers that it takes time for them to acknowledge you. If your product is great and worthy of their attention you will succeed. Keep following up: keep sending emails, requests and calling them. If they want you to stop bothering them, they will tell you! A determination to succeed, perseverance and a thick skin are all essential.

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