Growing a brand takes work but it doesn’t have to be difficult. There are simple things every brand MUST do. Your success depends on shoppers buying your products but shoppers can’t buy them if they can’t find them. Success = brand strategy + execution.

In its most simple terms, business is all about making things and selling things. There are certain things that every brand needs to do. If you don’t do these well, it can determine how long your brand will be around, a week, a month, a year, a decade, or longer. The problem is that there’s so many distractions pulling our attention away from doing the basic selling, that we often overlook, or lose sight of what’s really important. That’s what this podcast is about today. 

Today’s story is something that every brand can benefit from.  Literally every brand, even the big brands have problems here. Over 80% of small brands fail in the natural channel within the first year. That should get your attention. I’m committed to changing this. That’s what this podcast is about. It is about you and it’s for you, helping you get your products on more retailer shelves and into the hands of more shoppers.

Well, the way you do that is by making sure that your products are available, wherever your customer’s shop, that they are merchandised properly, priced properly, and that you have distribution that’s going to help support your brand. These are the basics. Execution is the most important aspect of any strategy. Brands need to own this, every aspect of this. You cannot delegate this and then blindly assume that it’s being taken care of.    

Your success depends on shoppers buying your products but shoppers can’t buy your products if they can’t find them.

You need to be involved, it’s your brand. Your brand is a reflection of you. It has your name on it. Out of stocks, any problems with merchandising, any problems with distribution, is a bad reflection on you. It’s an embarrassment to your retail partners that could hamper your ability to get distribution on new products. Remember, you never get a second opportunity to disappoint a customer, including a retailer.

The focus of this episode is to help you avoid the landmines and the many pitfalls that brands fall into. To help you avoid these critical mistakes that can derail and even bankrupt you. Before I go any further, I want to remind you that there’s a free downloadable guide for you at the end of most every podcast episode. I always try to include one easy to download, quick to digest strategy that you can instantly adopt and make your own. One that you can use to grow sustainable sales and compete more effectively. 

I appreciate your listening. If you like the podcast, share it with a friend, subscribe, and leave a review. Now, here’s Michael J. O’Donnell.

Download the show notes below

Click here to learn more about The Belmullet Food and Beverage Group



Hello and thank you for joining us today. This is the Brand Secrets and Strategies Podcast #115

Welcome to the Brand Secrets and Strategies podcast where the focus is on empowering brands and raising the bar.

I’m your host Dan Lohman. This weekly show is dedicated to getting your brand on the shelf and keeping it there.

Get ready to learn actionable insights and strategic solutions to grow your brand and save you valuable time and money.


Dan: Welcome. In its most simple terms, business is all about making things and selling things. There are certain things that every brand needs to do. If you don't do these well, it can determine how long your brand will be around, a week, a month, a year, a decade, or longer. The problem is that there's so many distractions pulling our attention away from doing the basic selling, that we often overlook, or lose sight of what's really important. That's what this podcast is about today.

Today's story is something that every brand can benefit from. Literally every brand, even the big brands have problems here. Over 80% of small brands fail in the natural channel within the first year. That should get your attention. I'm committed to changing this. That’s what this podcast is about. It is about you and it's for you, helping you get your products on more retailer shelves and into the hands of more shoppers.

Well, the way you do that is by making sure that your products are available, wherever your customers shop, that they are merchandised properly, priced properly, and that you have distribution that's going to help support your brand. These are the basics. Execution is the most important aspect of any strategy. Brands need to own this, every aspect of this. You cannot delegate this and then blindly assume that it's being taken care of.

Your success depends on shoppers buying your products but shoppers can’t buy your products if they can’t find them.

You need to be involved, it's your brand. Your brand is a reflection of you. It has your name on it. Out of stocks, any problems with merchandising, any problems with distribution, is a bad reflection on you. It's an embarrassment to your retail partners that could hamper your ability to get distribution on new products. Remember, you never get a second opportunity to disappoint a customer, including a retailer.

The focus of this episode is to help you avoid the landmines and the many pitfalls that brands fall into. To help you avoid these critical mistakes that can derail and even bankrupt you. Before I go any further, I want to remind you that there's a free downloadable guide for you at the end of most every podcast episode. I always try to include one easy to download, quick to digest strategy that you can instantly adopt and make your own. One that you can use to grow sustainable sales and compete more effectively.

I appreciate your listening. If you like the podcast, share it with a friend, subscribe, and leave a review. Now, here's Michael J. O'Donnell. Michael, thank you for coming on today. Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your journey to where you're at today?

Michael: I started, coming out of college, to work for Anheuser-Busch for 23 years. Started on a pedal truck, selling product to make sure your truck got emptied, so you didn't have to come back and unload a full truck.

Dan: I remember that.

Michael: I learned the very basic skills of selling into retailers. From there, working through Anheuser-Busch, I went to National Accounts. I also developed wholesalers. I had to terminate some wholesalers, consolidations of wholesalers. Also, working within that realm is to really understand retailers in different regions throughout the United States.

Next, I went into working for Nestle. I learned a lot from Nestle on the logistics side, which I was, believe it or not, basically not have a full understanding for my Anheuser-Busch days. Again, I rounded my career going through that. Next level was working for Marietta under the Bain Capital Group. Under Bain, I learned all these sophisticated financials that you need to bring your product to market.

Since then, after that, I went to work for Mountain Valley. At Mountain Valley, we took a, believe it or not, bottled water product that you think would be commoditized. During that time, we were able to raise the price at $1.45 per case. Then, a year later, another $1.50. Yet, we were still growing at 25%, which we began to believe you have to sell, which we'll talk about down in this wonderful discussion about how your brand should operate.

From there, I took an organic aloe vera soda, did extremely well there. The ownership ran out of money. I went to Rayos Helped that distribution channel, get it ready for sale. We sold it for $412 million. Now, I'm on my own, working with brands to give them a full understanding of how you go to market under these different, changing times.

I call it violent change, and it's good changes though, that needed to be done. This industry, basically, for the first 40 years I've been in, haven't really changed that much. These last five years, we could all say we're seeing multiple changes. You should accept change as being part of your everyday go to work strategy and go to market strategy.

Dan: Amen. I agree with you.

Michael: That's where we are.

Dan: Well, I appreciate that. Just to frame the conversation, you found me. The reason I wanted to bring it in the podcast is because I love your insights. I love your passion and your enthusiasm. More importantly, I love the fact that you understand the industry from a very unique or contrarian point of view.

You take a look at the industry from the 30,000 foot view and say, "What should we do to fix this? What do we need to be doing differently today?" Because the strategies, as we're talking right before I hit the record button, are different today than what we were able to use yesterday. Can you talk a little bit more about Belmont Food and Beverage Group?

Michael: At Belmont Food and Beverage Group, what we do is we build business plans, helping existing businesses between 10 to 100 million. We also work with startups. One of the things that our key is, is to first talk to the brand and say, "Who is your consumer?" They'll give some generalizations, but because we are fortunate to have IRI data along with some AC Nielsen data, we come back and talk to this brand saying, "Here's your real consumer." So we look at the consumer first and why it is important for them to understand their consumer.

In shoppers marketing, which I'm a big fan of as well, you have to understand who makes those decisions within the household that permeates the sale in that household to your brand. The second part of what we do is that we also help you go to market, working with the right distributors, national and regional, and working with brokers. We also use scorecards. We also do a lot of good financial understanding of where your brand should be, priced wise, value price wise, versus just the price.

I think a lot of products come in looking at competition and saying, "This is where it should be." That may not be right, because your brand has a lot more uniqueness to it, and you have to explain that when you go into the retailer of a new brand of why you should be there, understanding their consumer, which allows your product to grow profitably, and more effectively, and efficiently. That's what we do, basically, here at the Belmont Food and Beverage Group.

Dan: That's perfect. Thank you so much. Let's go back into your first point. Help the brand understand who the consumer is. I don't want to put you on the spot, but did you get a chance to listen to the Turnkey Sale Store Strategies course that I sent you?

Michael: Yes. I liked it because a lot of the things that you talked about there are very, very brand building.

Dan: Thanks.

Michael: I think what people don't understand is when you have a brand versus a product, to me, if you say, "I got this," that's really a price driven product. What do I mean by that? You're just following the leaders of that category by price mechanisms. I have some bad news for you. Unless you've hit the lottery for $250 million overnight, you're going to run out of money very quickly. Your investors are going to start to wonder why you've done this.

Brand building, on the other hand, in your book, which I think is fantastic, I can't wait for you to put the book together. I think people are going to be very, very not surprised, but I think enlightened by what you're talking about is, this is how you go building a brand. It really starts understanding that consumer that really does understand the quality of your product. Then, the price is second. I think people will find this interesting.

I did see one survey done by the American Marketing Association. It was pretty interesting that they said that price in consumer products was number three. It first started with quality, second was value. I think that's still key. I think people need to understand it.

You have to have a firm belief in your brand, when you do go to the retailer, to present it. I think, sometimes, you default to the buyer, which is not a bad thing, but the buyer may not understand all the key attributes of what your consumer brings to them to build their market basket. Then, over a period of time, you're able to work with that retailer to do a lot of better cross merchandising, which I think that's another thing, Dan, you're very big on. I'm a big fan of that, as well. I think you really bring into focuses to help that category managers job be a little bit easier by helping his profitability or her profitability, along with the retailer's profitability.

Dan: I appreciate you sharing that. By the way, the book is ready to go. I just have to get it published to up to Amazon, but it's ready. I sent you an advance copy, the audio version, the audio book.

Michael: Yes.

Dan: So, thank you for sharing that. I'm excited about it. That's the reason I built a free course to begin with, because it's the foundation of everything you do. To your point, if you don't get this right, then you've got a big struggle down the road. I was sharing with you that I believe, and I know this is really contrarian, but I believe that a CEO should not be a perpetual fundraiser.

My point being is that a CEO should keep their hand firmly on the rudder of their ship. The CEO should be driving sales and not looking constantly for the next investor so that they can spend a little bit more money to buy a little bit more runway that, like you said, really doesn't achieve anything. That drives me nuts. I think that's why most brands fail within 80 days. When you're talking about the brand knowing who the consumer is, I love that.

More people need to pay attention to that. I mentioned this right before I hit the record button, that I think things have changed in the industry. Back when you and I started, way back when there were dinosaurs. Just kidding. Hey, I drove a truck too. Way back when, the only vehicle that a brand had to get their product in front of consumers was a retailer. Today, you've got online. You've got direct to consumer. A lot of other strategies, a lot of other opportunities. In that book, I challenged the premise that the retailers have all the power.

Instead, the retailers, in my opinion, need the brands every bit as much as the brands need the retailers if they want to remain relevant. Your thoughts?

Michael: You're correct. I think you have to have mutual respect for each other. I think one of the things people do not do, and I'm glad you brought up those greater days of yesteryear, is that you need to walk through the stores. I am more appalled, when I talk to brands, and when working with them, "Have you went to this particular retailer or that particular retailer?" "No." Then here's the reasons, you've got to see how that store's setup is. I'm a big fan of looking at merchandising.

What do they have on the floor? Why is that display in that particular area? So on and so forth. So you know the mechanics, their thought process of what they do. Sometimes, you can bring that up, saying to the retailer, "I've been in 10 of your stores, here's some photos, and here's some ideas I have that you may be missing a large amount of sales and a gap for profitability. I think that's the biggest thing that I see." I also believe, listening to all of your podcasts, and your wonderful guidelines, as I call them.

Dan: Thanks.

Michael: Handouts, that allows you to think about these things on a constant basis. The last thing, you brought up the thing with the CEO, I don't understand. You've got to concentrate on your brand 24/7. The last thing that you need to do is be an anchor-banker. Is to run out, "Oop, I've got to get this and all." Two things I see wrong.

One, they always seem to ask for the lowest amount of money, and it gets a little skeptical on people, saying, "Did you really know what you're doing?" I'm not saying you should ask for a huge payment too. Be reasonable about where you're going, building your business plan, that's what we do here. Second, is to know exactly which retailers to be in and how many stores.

If you're in a particular chain that has 5,000 stores, well, we're going to do our due diligence here, and you may find this interesting, we're going to do a test of 100 stores. What? Our goal is to get to 1,500. Okay? That's what fits this brands profile with their consumer in that profile. At that point, you could say, wow, these 100 stores.

Now, you have a good story, a good basis of sales, and that retailer is going to believe what you said happened and everything that you did to control it. That's the other thing. Again, I'm always stunned when CEOs say, "I've got to run out and see this person for money." Well, you should have had the money already in the bank, let's go build the brand. I think, you can't have this stop start.

You're correct, it's about 80 days, I've seen, where people are underfunded and they're still running around trying to get money. Yes, we hear of those great stories. God knows, I tip my cap to those people that did it on a half a million or a million dollars, whatever. But folks, I've got some bad news for you. If you look at the statistics on that, it's one out of 17,000 brands that, that success story.

So, let's go to where you should be and get the right amount of funding, so you have the right amount of money to go execute.

Dan: I couldn't agree more. Thank you for sharing that. In fact, let's go one step further, here's the dirty little secret. If you know who your customer is, you really understand who your brand is, and you've done all the homework ... Again, the reason for the book, and the course, et cetera, then you can ask for better terms with the lenders. You don't have to dig for scraps or however you want to put that, you can get the best funding that's going to help you. More importantly, that's going to put you in front of organizations that have the bandwidth, and the ability, the wherewithal to help you grow.

I think a lot of brands overlook that. Again, to recap, not only does it put you in front of the best investors, when you do need money, it develops a relationship, or a story that you can take to the retailer, because everything's negotiable in retail. Now, instead of talking about, "Hey, I'm a nice guy. I've got a great product, with a really cool slogan. Look at the cool t-shirts we have." And think, by the way, how much money do you need me to write a check for?

Now, you can say, "Here's a consumer that buys my product and here's what they buy when they're in your store buying my product. This is why I'm more important to you than brand X." Your thoughts?

Michael: Correct. No, 100% correct. Because, Dan, you're giving confidence to the lender that you know exactly what you're talking about and who you're going after. A lender doesn't need to play what I always like to say Columbo, asking 1,500 what's and it's like we're all over the place. Now, Columbo does solve the case at the end, a lender doesn't need to be Columbo.

I keep telling that to people when we build a business plan and we present it to lenders, and investors, they need to have four question answered. Why are we going to this? Who is going to purchase our brand? Third, what is the terms of when you think the investment will have it's rate of return? The fourth question, I always keep saying, is out of my top four is, how is it that you figured out this brand should be successful today?

If you have those four questions, you're pretty much there. The lender then can have, as I call it, the five time effect. There's going to be 20 questions behind this, but you'll know those questions, because here's the other thing that you should understand. I always tell people, if you manage your message, you control the conversation. I think that's very important, especially talking with sophisticated bankers.

About 30 years ago, I noticed, with bankers, it was an overview, they looked at the category real quick. It's look very good and they gave you the money. Today, they're very sophisticated, having people looking at the retail industry a lot better and a lot smarter than they did. So you better be on top of your game, when you're going in with these investors.

Dan: Absolutely. In fact, kind of playing your analogy, when you said, I'm thinking of the Columbo episode where you see them getting close to coming up with something, with a who-did-it. Then, all of a sudden, okay, that's the end of this season. Now, you've got to wait for three or four months to get the rest of the episode. To your point, if you can make the bankers job easier, if you can make the retailers job easier, if you can put them in a position where all they have to do is say, "Yes."

You've answered all their questions, I love that. The who, what, why, where, and how. If you can answer all those questions, not only does that make you a more credible borrower. If you can excuse that terminology. But yet, more importantly, it makes you a more viable brand. The reality is ... And this is the part that I love about this. Big brands are struggling across every category and across every channel.

But if you can do these simple things, now you become relevant, now you become a value-add to the retailer. If you can help educate the retailer as to why your product is more invaluable to the consumer than anyone else. In fact, let's go one step further. What's more important to the retailer isn't the slotting you pay ... By the way, big brands don't always pay that. What's more important to the retailer is not the color of your package.

It's the consumer that your product attracts. That needs to be the focus. So getting back exactly to where we started this conversation, this is why knowing the consumer, really understanding your consumer. Not just, as we were talking about at one point, not just 2.5 kids, college educated, stuff like that. But more importantly, how do they use the product when they get home? How do they share it with their friends? Are they a vegan? Are they into yoga? Do they go hiking?

Know your customer intimately. Back to like what you said, I remember when I started in this industry, we did product tear downs, we spent an enormous amount of time in the store, physically talking to actual consumers. That's an art that is lost today. Your thoughts?

Michael: Correct. One of the things I always tell people, ample sample. Ample sample. What does that mean? Go out and sample the consumers and get their input. You know why? They're the ones consuming it. They're the ones who want to understand why should I take your brand? If you explain it, and you know how to be a great story teller, while you're serving them your product at a particular retailer, in the front of their store, you normally win.

I think that, what I call hand-to-hand selling, has been a lost art. Is it hard work? Yes. Is it long hours? Yes. Here's the last part of the yes, yes, you'll win that consumer over and the retailer sees that you've invested him, or her, build their store traffic. The biggest thing ... And there's so many great terms. Share of wallet, share of mind. You know what it comes down to folks? It comes down to share of the consumers head.

When you get into their head, and they look at your brand ... I'm going to stun everybody here. I think, Dan, I told you about this. A friend of mine had these glasses and he gave it to 10 female shoppers, in 10 different supermarkets, that were all high-end. They came back and they averaged about 13 items. I'm going to stun everybody on this podcast, not one of the female shoppers knew the exact price of the items. When they said, "Oh, normally, it's $1.50 less than what you've had." Here's the general answer that came out of them, "Oh, it's a great product, and it's great for my family, and it keeps them healthy."

Dan: Absolutely.

Michael: What does that really tell you, is that, if your packaging conveys what's inside, you're going to win. Then, going back to sampling. When the consumer picks it up, they look at it, 92% of females do label reading. Okay? They look at it and they're tasting it there. I think that ample sample is a lost art. I think a lot of brands need to go back and say, "We need to do it."

By the way, it's always good that the founder shows up through a couple of these. People want, "How did you develop this?" People love stories, they love to hear how you came up with this brand. It was because of a child sickness in your family, or something of that nature. People get attached to what I call the humanization of selling. That's what hand-to-hand selling is all about.

Dan: I appreciate that. In fact, just as a shameless plug, the whole premise behind the Turnkey Self-service Strategies book is to teach everyone how to communicate that story with the same passion, and enthusiasm, and excitement, as it's told by the founder, in the first time. Where I'm going with this, is that, if I tell you a story, and then you tell the story to someone else, and so on, and so on, when it comes back around to me, it's unrecognizable.

The challenge is that, that story needs to resonate with every single one of your consumers. It's got to be top-of-mind. Okay, this is a great segue, we're talking about shopper marketing, that was the second thing on your list. We're talking about the humanization of products and understanding the consumer. I have a "loyalty card", I love that term. A loyalty card for every airline I fly on, for every retailer I go to. Loyalty cards are a myth. They are a coupon.

Customers use them to get the best value wherever they shop. True loyalty, as you said, and I agree 100%, is developing a relationship with that consumer, an intimate relationship, where they know I can trust you. Where, to your point, price is not the thing that they're focused on. They're focused on value. If you are what you eat, then your product needs to deliver that value well beyond the four corners of your package. It's got to offer the promise of better nutrition, a better society, et cetera. As your building your story up, how do you work with brands to help them understand that?

Michael: Well, it's a very interesting point you just brought up, because of that. I'm going to take something, again, from many years ago. Mass advertising, basically, was the following, they pummeled the TV with ads, the consumer came in, the retailer just had to stock it, and the distributor had to go deliver it. The manufacturers kept pumping out volume. Okay? Now, we've seen where everything's been chopped up and it's because the type of advertising, that I grew up with, disappeared. Mass push and pull marketing, they went in totally different directions. Even in textbooks today, I think they have to be rewritten. That's my opinion.

Dan: True.

Michael: Because of what's going on. When we look at what you just brought up, my feeling about it is, is getting to that consumer, and it is about sampling, but it's also using your social media. Where I've seen some brands do a great job, videoing their actual sampling in stores, and putting it on all of these wonderful platforms that we have today, in social media. All of a sudden, it's a big catch, that you say, "Wow, I've never seen that."

That consumer then goes to the retailer to say, "How come you're not stocking brand Y?" You're almost getting the consumer to be "your advocate". That's the other part of brand building, you want advocates. People that love your brand, they know it's great for their lifestyle, it's great for their families health and well-being. When you have advocates, they really don't look at price. They're always going to talk about the quality of the brand. Okay?

Dan: Exactly.

Michael: That's why I brought up that scenario with all those women. None of them came close. I was in that room, and I listened to their answers. So when you talk about that, it's telling you folks, it's not about price. When you read about, oh, this guy's reducing price, and all, I've got a bad thing for you. If that's true, then the market basket items should increase. They haven't.

That's another big misnomer, that I keep hearing about, "Well, its price, Mike." If it's true, the market basket items have been somewhat stagnant the last two years, by different IRI data that I've been looking at, and others. Now, if you look ... And here's another interesting statistic. If you took the natural and organic, last year, which did 82 billion, and it grew between 6 to 8%, depending on which report you want to go to. I find it interesting, if you took that out, the industry was flat and declining.

That's telling me that the consumer is running to a better quality product, it's not about price. It really is about the quality of it. I like what you always say, "The four corners could be a lot for your packaging, but if you've got something really substantial, something really unique, in a particular category, you're going to be something that, that retailer will lean to you." Because, here's the other part ... I know I get excited about this. Most people don't know, except for you Dan, because you're the expert.

There's 200 categories folks, in this supermarket business, 65 are considered high-end. If you know you're in that 65, and you can bring real value, because that retailer's looking, probably, sometimes, over course, between ... And correct me if I'm wrong, sometimes, between 20 to 60 brands in that particular category. They're not going to be the expert on it. That's when your expertise, working with your broker, hand-in-hand, and that broker understands where you need to be, and where that product needs to be getting to that consumer, you'll win.

Dan: Well-

Michael: I hope that answers what ... Go ahead.

Dan: No, I think, absolutely, thank you for sharing that. Let me back up a little bit. I actually approve of what you were saying, the 2016 Category Management Handbook, I wrote a feature for, where I was able to validate this. It's at the bottom of ... It's in the show notes, and it's in the podcast web page, for every single podcast, because it's so relevant.

Michael: Okay.

Dan: The point behind it is, if brands can focus more on the value that they bring to the retailer's, opposed to, like you said, price, that changes the conversation. Just to paint this picture really quickly, back then, when I did the project, it was several years ago, total dairy was up 1.5%, natural dairy was up ... I mean, organic dairy was up 15%. Organic dairy represented 9.8% of that multi, multi, multi billion-dollar pie. This is all Allied Data.

If you remove that small sliver of organic, then total dairy was only up .5%. What's interesting is that I was able to prove this same thing for every single category. Then, when you start looking at plant-based, gluten free, allergy free, et cetera, then that was even more dramatic. So, thank you for sharing that. Now, when you're talking about the consumer becoming an advocate, this is why this matters.

That consumer that understands, again, what they're getting in the product, if you are what you eat. That consumer that understands that product trend, or that what's important in that product, that's how you grow your brand. Going back to what you first said, in terms of brand building, developing a relationship with a consumer, by giving them, or selling them something they want. You brought up the point of mass advertising.

The Achilles heel of big brands is that they talk at us and not to us. The opportunity for small brands to level the playing field is by developing a one-on-one relationship with that end consumer, that understands these things. More importantly, having a one-on-one relationship with a consumer, and then building a community around them, that's true loyalty. Your thoughts?

Michael: Yes. You just brought it up again, which is another great point, which, again, I really express my deepest push on this. I think people should go listen to Daniel's podcast.

Dan: Thank you.

Michael: Just for any information. Because, folks, it builds up to your brand. It is something that the retailers are looking for. I can say this to anybody today, I've been in this for 42 years now, and I've watched a lot of variations of brands, and all. A lot of things, folks, believe it or not, have been done in the past. What we're seeing is technology has advanced it. If you take a look, let's go back to the mass advertising.

The big brands have had problems, because that they had to get this volume, so they "footballed", which means it was on sale at retailer A, then retailer B, retailer C. That is what's led to private label. I don't blame the retailers on this, because of one reason, if I'm building a brand, and I see this going on, what do I get out of it? I'm just trading that price customer to that retailer, to my next competitor. You know what? I'm losing a shopping trip. Okay?

Dan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael: There's one particular retailer, very large, that I've talked to, he's lost 3/4 of a trip. And you're right about loyalty cards, by the way. I think that's the biggest myth since, really, the Abominable Snowman. To me, it's been ridiculous.

Dan: He's a myth?

Michael: Those things, they're trigger ... I understand the trigger point to it, and the data helps them, which again, if you get close to your retailer, some of them will allow you to look at that to help them go build that category. That's the thing with loyalty cards, which I agree with you 100%, to me, they've been a bigger marketing misnomer than they have been in consumer builder.

Dan: True, yeah.

Michael: Going back to what I talked about just a second ago, that's why private label has become really an advanced stage of mid-market products that they're just going to replace. They want to build their name, a store controlled brand name. Then, they have their own store name to it. Those two things you see a lot of. If you bring innovation as a brand, and you can bring it to the shelf, then allow it with the retailer to build it, that retail is going to appreciate it. I have another line, Dan, you've heard me say. You want to be a destination brand.

Dan: Yes.

Michael: I can go to this particular destination and I know I can get that brand there. You know what it's about, folks? Not about price, it's about that destination. That retailer knows my brand brings that high end consumer, building the market basket. Then, let's go, something we talked about previously, cross merchandising.

Go to the retailers, find out what your product has a tentacle to in these other perimeters departments, produce, meat, seafood, bakery, dairy. Believe me, the retailer knows they got a partner. They got somebody that is looking out for their basket sales. That is a huge thing. You could be number one in the category folks, but if you're not building that basket for them, as I call it, you're just another cash register ringer. That's it. That's how I feel about.

Dan: True. Thank you for sharing that. I mean you're absolutely right, it's the race to the bottom from where I look at it. I agree that private label has a place, but on that note, how many times have you ever heard of a consumer that says, "You know what? I think I'm going to drive across town to try that retailers new private label product." That doesn't happen. Brands drive customers into stores.

They choose private label at shelf, but it's the brands, the promise of a brand. Let's go one step further. The brands are doing all the heavy lifting in retail. They're the ones that are paying for all the marketing, and merchandising, et cetera. They're the ones that participate in all the retailers programs.

A lot of people don't realize that retailers are on the hook for their private label. If the private label's damaged, they eat it. Whereas a brand, if that product's damaged, the brand eats it. It's a guaranteed sale. More importantly, as the retailer's trying to make money or try to grow their private label, they've got to promote it, merchandise it, whatever, on their own dime.

Good or bad, like it or not, the challenge is that a lot of retailers, because they don't understand this, they use private label to dilute the value proposition that they offer in the category, because they don't focus enough on the brands. Again, it's the brands that have the relationship with the consumer outside the store. It's the brands that have the relationship with the consumer that is identified as, like you said, a brand ambassador. Your thoughts?

Michael: Correct. When you become a brand ambassador, that's a great term, is that then you become, what I call, the so called category captain. One of the things, Dan, that I like that you bring up a lot is people say, "Well, I'm on the shelf," and you're happy. Are you really in the right position? Folks, on the other thing, being on the Shelf is one thing, being in the right position on the shelf is another.

One of the other things, Dan, that you bring up so succinctly is if you know your category, then you should know your shelf. I have another thing about when you look to get more displays acquisition. I always say the war is on the floor. Then, you can get to the door. What I mean by that is you're going to win the war there by getting those incremental displays in those other departments.

You become part of that category outside of itself. That's something else that the retail is, I think, some of the category managers miss. You can help them with that. That's the other thing of being a brand ambassador is to say that, that's what my brand does within the category and in the sub category, of course, selling. It also can go down into the display activity area, because I have a hub factor.

In the hub, in the middle, you have dairy, bakery, seafood, meats, produce. That's what consumers are coming for. How strong you are in the spoke of that wheel depends just on you. You can be a thicker spoke by doing the things that you and I know you need to do, is making sure you know the consumer of that retailer. Two, understanding the category totally of what you do within it. Three is to understand where it should be on the shelf.

If you follow that process, I truly believe that you will be successful. Last thing, I have a spreadsheet, which has been patented, that I can do everything for you. Number of stores, facings, FOB price, all of it. Sometimes, you'll laugh about this Dan, I've shown people, oh my God, my rate of return is only 1%. How about we negotiate out these other factors in the spreadsheet.

Dan's right about slotting, about these other course. Then, when you take it, I'm getting 18%. You know what's good about it? What? Now, we know what to negotiate and what not to give away. That's also part of being a brand ambassador, is understanding your total effect within that category and how it affects your bottom line as well.

Dan: Absolutely. At the end of the podcast, if you could send me a link to you so that people can learn more about the spreadsheet ... You've told me about it. It sounds amazing. I keep saying, you've got to know your numbers. Not just here's a can top line report. Look, I printed it off on my own.

Instead of that, more importantly, what are the numbers telling you? To your point, when you get down into the weeds, and you understand the value of your consumer, the value of your product, this is where the game changer is. You're talking about the hub factor. I love that analogy. Retail-

Michael: Yes, and-

Dan: Go ahead.

Michael: No, here's other thing too, Dan. You bring up a great point. People don't understand about scorecards. That also helps the broker saying here's the amount of stores, here's the amount of SKUs. I also have on my scorecard profit margin. You want your broker to be your partner tied to the hip and you've got to say, "Here's where my brand is." They have to have a full understanding. I always say to people, have a monthly meeting. Have an agenda to go through that scorecard. Why are we missing here?

Why did we miss that? I think that's also part of that return on investment. I think if you have the scorecard, looking at the retail, working with the broker and distributor, if you have the national and the independent descriptors, you'll be very successful, because you know where it's selling and why it's selling. That also helps develop, I think, a real true brand story. One of the things in one of your podcasts, I think was Gary from Stonyfield said it, is that when you look at a category that might be priced, it might be a giveaway.

You really got to go around it to say this is what the value of our brand really does. God knows, he did a great job with yogurt. He really took ... I tell people, again, all of your podcasts are outstanding because there's always one or two nuggets in every one. I always say this to people, write an ideas notebook, listen to these podcasts. If you want to really develop it, I think you should go to Dan, because he's going to get you to that certain level. As you know, I'm a big fan of you, because that's what it's about. That's how you work this, is that you've got a brand, not a product.

Dan: Well, I appreciate it. Thank you so much. I'm blushing. Checks in the mail. No, I just, I appreciate you finding me. I mean, and that's what's so cool about this, is that this relationship started as you being a fan. The fact that you're able-

Michael: An advocate.

Dan: Yeah. Well, and it's so ... Again, I appreciate it. because it's, I'm trying to change the dynamic. So, let's back up a little bit and unpack some of that. Retailers cannot possibly be an expert in every product they sell. There's no way, no how. Retailers need actionable insights, not a can top-line report, that says, here's how you're ranked in the category.

They need insights, actionable insights, that no one else is providing them. Any brand can be a category leader, a category leader is any brand willing and able to step up, and help the retail, help the retail partner, drive sales by leveraging the strengths of their brand. That means helping the retailer understand who is that consumer. Back to the beginning of our conversation, the fact that you're talking about numbers and scorecards, thank you so much for bringing this up.

I cannot stress this enough. Too many brands don't know what's left in the till at the end of the day. They look at ... In fact, actually, as a side note, there's a retailer, unfortunately, that they look at what they're doing at the end of the day and they say, "Look, there's an extra dollar in the cash register at the end of the day, we must be doing well." When, in reality, they don't think about what did it take to put that dollar in the cash register.

Michael: Correct.

Dan: So, you getting into the profit margin, and the ROI, so very important. I work with a lot of brands, Michael. One of the things, to your point, that I find, is that they don't understand those nuances, those variables, and why they're important. My background, I was going to be a CPA when I got out of college. I ended up in this route, so this is really cool.

But cost accounting, I do a lot of cost accounting for the brand, some of the brands that I work with. Helping them understand to the penny, what does it cost to put the stuff in a bag and then put the bag on the shelf. A lot of brands are stunned. What's interesting, going back to our initial conversation, they didn't understand that. So, when they're asking for more money from a banker, from a venture capitalist, et cetera, they don't even know what to ask.

So again, if we change the conversation, that dynamic, that paradigm, whatever you want to call it, to focusing on the value proposition, focusing on how do we meet the consumers needs? Instead of, where do you want the stuff delivered and how much do you want for that shipment? Thank you for sharing that. Any other thoughts on that?

Michael: Yeah. I have another one. I call it score. What it means for your business is to be succinct, concise, you better have your objective, you better know your results, and you better know how to execute. That little, I guess, one word, is something that you have to think about your brand on a daily basis, and it really does.

What I mean by ... I'll say it quickly, is succinct. What am I doing today that's going to move this down the road? What do I have to do today? Next is to be concise. Don't be you know five things and you really should concentrate on one.

Dan: True.

Michael: The other one. What's the objective? What is the objective when I walk into that retailer, retailer's store, or a banker? What's the result I need to get out of that, working with a retailer, a broker, a banker? The last is, how do you execute? I think one of the fall downs of a lot of brands is they don't know how to execute. One of the things I heard during one of your podcast, makes sense. Ready, aim, fire. How about we just ready, fire, will aim the bullet. Let's just keep moving it down there.

Dan: I like that.

Michael: And we'll hit the target. Yeah. I think that's a big thing I heard in one of your podcasts. That does make sense.

Dan: It does.

Michael: There's a football line, by a great coach, Vince Lombardi, "We're going to chase perfection, but if excellence gets in the way, we'll grab that." I think that's one of the things we have to do for a brand. That's the whole thing. Don't be perfect, let's just get to excellence and that'll take care of itself. You know perfection is something we all chase. We know we probably won't get it, but we'll take excellence.

Dan: Sure.

Michael: It comes down to that. Execution is huge, is working. You know, and another, last thing, is revealing what you did during a promotion of some sort. What did we do? Why, oh and excuse me. what did we do right? What can we get better at? If you can keep that in mind, sampling, whatever it may be, a display execution, so on and so forth, then you have a pretty good idea what you're trying to do, and how to go "execute" to even get better.

Dan: Absolutely, so let me back up a little bit. When you're talking about objective, it reminded me of something. While taking a lot of cohort courses in cost accounting, and different types of accounting, et cetera, I also had to take a lot of courses in law. Also, my favorite uncle was a lawyer. The point being is that a lawyer is trained to only ask questions they already know the answer to.

My point is, if you're a brand working with a potential investor, or working with a retailer, if you know the answer to the question that they want an answer to, and you can help get them to there, succinctly, concise, et cetera, like you said, that's going to help build your credibility. That's where you become a value-added resource to that retailer. The point being is that, as a brand, there were a lot of times when the retailer would bend over backwards too, and ask me if I was able to help them, to support them, with the incremental promotions, and stuff like that, because they knew that they could rely on me to deliver that value.

The lesson learned here is that any brand can do that. Now, when you talk about execution, this is where I struggle with so many brands. They effectively hand the keys over to a broker, distributor, et cetera. Instead of driving that that broker, distributor, agency, to help them drive sells. What I mean by that, exactly what you said Michael, and thank you for sharing that, is that you've got to remain firmly in control of your brand. You've got to keep your hand on the rudder and don't expect anyone, literally anyone else, to help you build sales.

You've got to have the strategy. You've got to have the brand story. You've got to have these strategies that you want to execute at retail. Then, leverage those relationships that you have with everyone else, the broker, distributor, et cetera, to help them execute. If you can execute better than the next guy, then you can get incremental sales. There's a ... I love this story. I think Brian Tracy talks about it. Where, and I don't know a lot about horse racing, but there were two horse racers.

The most winningest, don't quote me on this, but the most winningest horse in the industry, was a nose faster than the horse that came in number two, but the prize earnings were something like 10 times, or 100 times? I forget. Many, many, many times the horse in number two. The point being is that the horse wasn't a million times faster than the second horse, it was only a nose faster. So, by doing those incremental little things, executing to your point, a little bit better every day, progress, not perfection. Right?

Always progress, not perfection. If you can do better every single day, and build on that, and have your entire team moving in lockstep, build on that, that's how you win at shelf. That's how you differentiate yourself from other brands. That's how you make your retail partner stand out in their market as a superhero. Your thoughts?

Michael: You're correct. One of the other things, when you talk of ... You need to work with brokers and distributors, and you have to have a game plan going in. I also use this analogy. It's like you, have a child that's one years old, you leave it at somebody's doorstep and say, "Hey, I'll be back in 18 years. I hope you get it to grow up right." And walk away.

That's not what you do with a brand. Somebody said, "Well Mike, that analogy?" This is your baby. This is your child. This is something that you really put your life's efforts into. So you have to work with both the distributor, and broker network, extremely well. When you go out, have sales materials, have the right point of sale materials, and so on and so forth, and make sure that it goes up and down.

In other words, your social media is matching what you're sending out into the field and what your business plan says. So everything is very, very succinct. You're correct. That the thing that brands ... They all tend to say, "Oh, I have to tender all of this over to this retailer." Well, the retailer must have seen some sort of value, to allow you the meeting. Well, take advantage of it, by saying, "Let me steer this ..."

Again, control the conversation to manage my message, by saying, "Here's why I'm glad you did take me in." And knowing what they do, through their certain situations, and all. A lot of people don't look at how they merchandise stores. You can say, well, as your brand gets on the shelf, and you could then suggest, "Here's some other ideas I have to help you with the ..." Again, going back to that perimeter of the store effect.

Then, all of a sudden, again, I keep telling people this, time and time again, you have a partnership going in. we always read all the great publications this industry produces, about well, I want to collaborate with this person and that. Well then, after you read it, then do it. you have to have a plan to do it. that's the one thing that listening to you all these years is, it's about a partnership. It really is.

People say, "Well, you know it's gotten tougher in business and this category's tough." I got some news for you, there's 200 categories, they're all tough. Okay. So let's take that, let's take that, you know, a little bit of a, you know, this is how tough it is, out of the equation. And say, "Okay, how can we be successful, knowing what we have to offer, that their consumer is looking for?" I'm really big on that, because I don't know how many times I just talk about it a day, with the brands I work with.

Saying, "This is how we've been moving." Now, we have one brand that we contractually were looking at $6 billion. They said, "Well, we're going to do private label. We're going to go through all this." I said, "What about your brand?" "Yeah, but ..." Well, we didn't take the contract, because they really didn't believe in their own brand. Imagine this. A brand from Europe and I'm scratching my head, going, "You don't believe in the brand?" "Well, in the United States, it takes a lot of effort to build a brand."

Well, I got some news for you too. Private-label is a brand. If you're going to build it, it's going to take a lot of effort as well. So again, when you talk private-label, I keep telling people is, if that's going to be the lowest common denominator, pricing, that you're going to lose it on a penny, a unit, or whatever. Do you really want to be in that business too? Right?

Dan: True.

Michael: You've got to be careful on how you look at that. So, getting back to the brand, that's why I think brands offer so much to retailers today, because of the innovation. We're seeing some major manufacturers buying these great companies that were startups, and you're saying, "Why?" They're telling you, we don't have the research and development.

If they're telling you that, that means you've got a real good opportunity being successful. Think about that too. You have to look at the whole span of the industry. That's why I'm always excited, in the natural and organic, there's a lot of room to play, just be more specific in where you're going and you'll be successful.

Dan: Well said. On that note, the reason small brands, small natural organic brands, are so attractive to the big brands is because they're trying to tap into that consumer. They want to magically figure out, how do I attract that consumer to buy my brand? Now, that's a whole other conversation, in terms of, again, the way they talk to their consumers, et cetera. But the point being is, they feel like they've seen a unicorn and they're trying to capture it, they're trying to study it. The reality is, is those big brands are trying to capture, or trying to, what's the term I want to use? osmosis. You know, learn through, you know?

Michael: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dan: Because that brand's in their portfolio, naturally, everything's going to percolate up to the top. Wrong. But the reality is, is that the small brands are the ones, again, that are driving sales across to every shelf, every store, every category. The big brands are struggling. And so, with that said, the real innovation in the market, getting back to what you just said, Michael, and thank you for sharing that, is that the small brands are innovating based upon what their customers tell them. And the point being, is that the big brands ...

I was just telling you a story where I was doing a project with a big brand that had an item. They slapped five different labels on it, it's an energy drink, it's a weight loss product, it's a bunch of different things, a meal replacement, and they call that true innovation, which it's not. It's a gimmick. Consumers are aware of this. The reality is, is that these small brands ... I used to always say that natural is the R & D of the CPG channel.

And so, it's these brands that are driving sales. Getting back to what you said, this is what consumers are looking for. They're paying attention to the consumer. They have a more intimate one on one relationship with their consumer, because of the way they talk to them. When we talk about go to market strategy, or a third point, and that's we've been talking about for quite a while, how do you encourage the brand's work with the retailer's? How do you encourage the brands come to you and work with someone like you?

Michael: What I do is I go to numerous trade shows, but I've been very lucky with my reputation. I get between five to 10 calls a week.

Dan: Good.

Michael: Mike. One of the things I feel great about my reputation is, "Mike, if you don't think it fits, you don't make it fit." I go, "No." Because I think when you represent a brand and work with a brand, I'm big on, do you really believe in what you're doing? I got to have somebody across the table that's passionate to have me represent their brand. If I can feel that in my heart and soul, then I'm with a good partner here.

That's going to translate over to the retailer too. It permeates in everything they touch. For me, over these years, in food and beverage, for me, I've been very fortunate, because of the tentacles I have in this industry, where I have people actually call me that run distributors and say, "Mike, I've been thinking about this brand, or whatever. We'd like to bring you upon as a consultant," which I'm doing. I'll ask them, first and foremost, how good are you in this category? I'm just a distributor, just a broker. Let's figure it out.

Then, I go back and say, "Okay, this is how we'll work with that brand." Then, when I have a brand, there are brokers and distributors. I will give them a little dossier to say what do you think about these people? This is what they have in that particular category. If they have over two to three brands, I normally will not go there, because that's not fair to the person who's hiring me.

Second, it's really not fair to the broker either, because I'm asking them that they've developed other brands out within that category. It usually doesn't work. You're just fighting an uphill battle. That's the other thing I try to do, is to be very even handed. A lot of people know that.

One of the things I like that you have is the attitude of gratitude. You're always giving back. I do the same thing. If I see a brand that wouldn't particularly fit, for me, because of the category, it may be in the category already, I would definitely call you or other people in the industry. Say, "Hey, this is great guy. He knows that category. I don't. There's certain categories, I'll be honest with you, that doesn't fit my bill, but I know great people in it. I'll recommend them."

Then, they do the same thing for me. I think, as an industry, we should reciprocate to each other. That's how you build great relationships. That's how you build it up where somebody will go, "Hey, did you hear about this retailer?" No, I didn't. Or this distributor, or this broker, or this brand, or whatever. It really helps.

It gives a little more market intelligence to help you. That's how I built this and, over the years, have been very fortunate that the people believed in what I do. I can say this talking to you, we're both advocates of this industry, but we're both students of it. We're constantly learning and changing. We've become industry chameleons, because you have to change. If you don't, as I tell one of my brands, when was the last time you saw a dinosaur. He starts to laugh. I go, "We won't be around either."

Dan: That's true.

Michael: We have to change. We have to change.

Dan: Kind of like that presentation I sent you with where are the dinosaurs now? The reason I wanted to have you on, and this is exactly right, because I love your passion, I love your enthusiasm, students of the industry. I think it's perfect. More importantly, we, I think, are going to be the change agents, because we're trying to get the industry to think differently, because we want to see it survive. Let's go back a little bit.

For someone to consider walking away from a multi-billion dollar brand because of the fact that they weren't passionate about their brand, they didn't stand behind it, for someone to not be focused on what ... Normally, we would just take anything we could get. We would reach for every opportunity, whether it was a good decision or a bad decision. The reason I want to frame that, Michael, is that I think a lot of companies are so desperate, looking for what's right in front of them. The next quick shiny object that they latch on to that, as opposed to building a relationship with a brand that has a relationship with its consumer.

The notion that you can walk away from a brand like that, hats off to you. That takes a lot of courage. More importantly, it takes a thorough understanding of the consumer that's going to be buying the product, potentially. The authenticity of a product, it resonates through every single thing that the brand does. When you're working with a brand and you're communicating that authenticity, how do you help the brand build that into their selling story? How do you help the brand go from telling your selling story to living there selling story?

Michael: What I first do is, we'll take the brand in. We do, what I call, an up and down analysis totally of it. Then, we say, "Okay, here's the consumer we feel that you're at." Nine times out of 10, they're like, "Yeah, that seems right." They had an idea, but they weren't really sure.

When you put the numbers behind it and you tell them that. Here's the first thing we do. Where are you located? They'll say Florida. All right. We're going to do a little, what I call, recruiting, as they call it in college football. We're going to put a fence around Florida.

We want to own that area so well that people know your brand. That you've got enough advocates, so as you go out to other major markets going up, and I'm a big thing ongoing, what I call, I-95. We're going to go up I-95, up the eastern seaboard, and we're going to pick the right retailer, with the right store, knowing the story of that retailer. We know their consumer, we know why the brand fits to their consumer.

We know why your brand fits their market basket the retailer. When we build that story, and we show the numbers behind it, and a deck that I always tell people, do not bring over 10 pages. I think PowerPoint, to me, has been totally abused in a lot of ways. I think 10 pages of good, concise, factual information gives enough to the retailer to say, "You do know my store, and you do know my consumer, and you're right."

At that point, we go in and we make those calls. That's what we do here, too. We make all the calls at all the major accounts. We also work with all the distributors, national and regional. They know, when we come in, we understand who their retailers are, because they know we've done our homework. That's the type of partnership I built over 41 years, that people say, "Mike does understand that."

There's certain distributors, I haven't went to, that will call me. "Geez, Mike?". I go, "Well, the categories you're in, this is outside your realm. I don't know if your sales team is at that particular time and place." I packed up. A couple of days later, they called. You're right. I said, "I don't want to be a dock dumper, putting product on your dock, and hoping it's going to sell." Because hope's not a strategy, in my opinion, either.

Dan: No.

Michael: That's why I'm very particular on that. People go, "Wow." Then, the brand feels comfortable, because we're building that relationship through the sales decks that we put together, that we feel can really help the brand move forward. We've been successful with that. Again, thank you for that wonderful compliment, because when you leave off and you say it's private label and all ...

There's a book I would suggest to everybody, if you don't mind Dan, it's called The Private Label Strategy, folks, from Harvard. The only one written. I think everybody should read it, because it really gives you an in-depth view of how private label works, if you have it, a brand with it, so on and so forth. I am a big advocate of reading other people. When I reached out to you, to me, you'd been the strongest voice in this industry about the changes that can happen.

Dan: Thank you.

Michael: And that need to happen, because, quite frankly, we're at this crossroads, folks. We're going to see many, many other changes in this retail landscape, very quickly. In fact, as we speak today, we'll probably read about two or three other things that are going to happen. That's what I call violent change. I've called this year the year of reckoning.

There's going to be a lot of things that are going to happen. Some bad, but a lot of good that I think the industry is starting to see. One of them is you being the advocate for how brand building needs to be done. It's no longer, folks, about price, because it was about price, we'd all be driving a Volkswagen Beetle and drinking Schaefer beer. That's how I've always felt about price.

Dan: Yeah, exactly. We need to be thinking more strategically when you think more about the brands. I want to celebrate you, because what you said, and I want this to resonate with everyone listening to this podcast, this is not a situation where you hand your keys over to the lowest common bidder, in terms of the broker, the distributor, et cetera. You've got to develop a relationship with the organization that is going to represent you. To have someone like Michael represent you, it would be an honor. What I'm getting at is this.

Knowing that he's going to put his best foot forward every step of the way, that he's going to make every single effort to help you succeed, to be able to guide you, to be able to mentor you, et cetera. What you said, again, I want to celebrate this, because most brands out there, the relationship with their broker, their agency, their distributor is purely transactional. That is not how you build a brand. That is the antithesis. This is why the majority of brands fail within the first year, because a lot of ... Unfortunately, there are good and bad consultants, or good and bad category managers, there are good and bad brokers.

Michael: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dan: Good and bad doctors. The point is this. You can't just go through the yellow pages, dating ourselves again, right? You can't just find somebody and choose the next person, Triple-A, whatever it is that you used to see at the top of the yellow pages. You've got to find someone that aligns with your mission, that aligns with your values, that is going to go out of their way to support you.

Again, same thing we started this conversation with. That's the reason I wrote the book. You've got to have every single person on your sales team, every part of your sales funnel, working in lockstep, telling the exact same story, with the same enthusiasm, passion, and authenticity as the founder first told it. If you don't have that, you need to rethink your business strategy, because that, I think, is where most brands fail. Again, I'm celebrating you, because I think it's great what you're doing.

I hope if anyone gets anything from this podcast, that's the one thing they get. The value of that relationship, because that's going to propel you. That's going to determine whether or not you're going to be around for a week, a month, a day, a decade, or longer. Thank you for sharing that. When you're talking about value priced analysis, and we were talking a little bit about this, and we've woven this in a lot.

We're talking about how the value of your product is the product. What's in the product, what's inside the product, the consumer that evangelized the product, that will go out of the way to buy the product get no matter what the price is. When you're talking about that, as opposed to chasing price down to the bottom, how do you help communicate this to the brands that you work with.

So, the brands that you work with, understand that, hey, I don't need to be a commoditized product. What I need to do is, I need to focus on meeting the consumers needs, where they're at. How do you do that?

Michael: Well, first, is that you got to pick the right retailer. I love when people say, "I've got to be in every major retailer." Wrong. There's 38,000-plus, today, storefronts. That reminds me of an old sales tale that I saw in one of the magazines for selling. Everybody's my customer. Wrong.

You want to have the right customer. What I first do is, I take the brand, and I do put out ... You'll find this interesting. On competitive pricing, but then, when you look at the volume, and all the other things that go around in that particular category, you're going to say, "They're missing this, because your brand delivers this to that consumer that's in the store." For instance, like I say, I took a brand, got it up to $2 million in less than a year. Okay?

3,000 locations, we picked 1,917. Okay? What we did, I went in, very ... Now, you'll find this interesting. Very limited IRI data. Okay? But the broker, who knew me for years, happens to be a great broker, says, "Mike, you understand this retailer better than they do." I was told that by the buyer. He says, "Mike, do understand us better. Sometimes, I wonder if you should be our CEO." I laughed.

I go, "I do my homework." That's the first thing what I tell brand, "I know these retailers. I read up on them constantly. You got to know them better than they do at times."

Dan: Oh, yes.

Michael: When I got it in there, we were, "Abe," I said, "we're going to be at this price." "Mike, we're going to be $1.40 more." "Well, we have a better brand and we're going to present it." When we did to the retailer, the brand then understood, right then and there, "Wow, Mike got us into this particular account."

And then, I go back to my other, I got the war on the floor. I was able to get little 10k stackers, near the deli department, and we got the incremental trial. Think about this for a second. The packaging was tremendous, of course, what was in it. But we were, we were able to have the retailer believe, when we walked in, that, that's how it is. I walk a brand through how this walks into the retailer, to get into the shelf, to be successful.

It takes a lot of work. That's the one thing I tell brands, "I want you to think of the successes five years from now, not today." They go, "Why?" It will make you work smarter and harder today, and you'll get to there. Because I also get a kick out of certain brands, when we go to trade shows, and they'll say, "You know, Mike, I want do this. In five years, I'm going to be at $90 million."

I go, "Well, I'm glad you brought that up." They go, "What do you mean?" "If you can give me the six winning numbers for lotto, I don't need to be doing this anymore. Since you've already got the value of your company up ..." I don't know. You know, "Why am I here?" I think that, that's the biggest thing when I take a brand in, let's go build it. if you build something, the money follows.

See, everybody tries to put the money in front of the brand. I say, "No, no. Here's the brand. Here's why, in our plan," when I take them in, "how we go to market. Here's our usual ideas of getting there. We'll change some things, because this is a ..." Maybe a new brand, in such a commoditized category. You have to understand that, as well, which you always bring up about that as well, to all of your podcasts.

Is that you come in, and do that, and now the brand feels, you know what, there is a lockstep with working with the Belmont Food and Beverage Group, that we can get to that spot. That's where it is. I am really excited, when we're able to take some really super brands, which we've done, and we've been successful. The reason is, it's just that, when I see the ...

I got a really feel the person's passion about a brand. There's one person now, I want people to hear this on the podcast. This person's been knocked down, not once, not twice, three times, husband left, probably, she lost a home. But I've tasted this brand, the packaging is great and everything, and someone recommended me. so I'm working with her, and we've got, not one, but three major chains, in specific areas on East Coast here, that will take it in.

The funny thing is, when I worked with her ... I'm working with her. Excuse me. She said, "Mike, you never brought up the price." "Because the quality of brand speaks volumes, like I said." She goes, "You're right." Once that retailer tasted ... Well now, some retailers, "I don't really like it." "Well, I've got some numbers to prove that different, and here's some testimonials from a website, that we have for the product line, and this is what the consumers are saying."

I always tell people, I may not like it. That doesn't mean it's not a good product. That's another thing that you have to understand. I think too many people dismiss things. You know, there's different seats for different cars. It's the same thing with products. It may not be my seat, but there's certainly consumers out there that do like that. I'm a big thing in taking it out, brands, here, in different markets, here, in the East Coast, to try it, and they'll say, "Geez, this does taste well."

I always, "Why do you like it?" They give you all the attributes, the packaging, the taste, you know, so on, and so forth. That's what I really try to do with brands. It is a little bit of hard work on my end, but I enjoy it, because it gets me back in to the retailer stores. To look at the stores and really get a better feel, because these stores are changing all the time as well, too, as you know.

Dan: They are. You've got to stay engaged. You cannot ... Can you imagine if we simply rest on our laurels, we'd be like all the other big brands that are out there. We would not know these things. We will not have line of sight to our customer and that's really what this is about. One of the things, kind of made me think about what you're talking about, retailers spend the majority of their time selling us the stuff on their shelves, as opposed to asking us what we want to buy.

If you can focus on exactly what you just said, providing that value, helping the retailer identify products that are out there in the market, that are unique and different, that are going to help drive traffic into their store, that are going to help that retailer remain relevant, that are going to help that retailer compete against the online threats, et cetera, that's the win-win. Any brand willing and able to step up and do that, is going to have an equal seat at the table with the biggest brands out there. I appreciate your sharing that. Do you have anything else you want to add?

Michael: No. Just, the last thing. I hope people understand that what Daniel is doing is a great thing.

Dan: Thank you.

Michael: I'm not saying this, to throw it all out. Folks, I've been doing this for 41 years, and I've seen more changes, and they're going to continue to change. But, Daniel's been on the forefront of talking about brand building. That it's not about the deepest pockets. It's about working very smart, effective and efficiently, so your brand can be successful.

I heard great things about Dan three years ago and I started following him on his podcast. I just think they're wonderful information vehicles. His services are something, certain brands that you're going to hear today, I think, folks, you should go to Daniel. He will get you to the success rate that you deserve.

But you have to have somebody who has a full understanding of today's business, and is changing business climate. Dan's one of them. For myself, I can say that ... Dan said it before. I'm pretty upfront and blunt, because I think, when you told the truth, it may sound a little harsh, but at least, you know what, I like him, because he's leading me the right way, in a truthful way.

I'd rather have people look at me saying, "I like dealing with Mike. He's very truthful and honest." If that's all you say, then I'm happy. I build personal relationships after, I really do, because you have to go after it, first and foremost. So ...

Dan: Well, I appreciate your sharing that. You're absolutely right, this is why we're in this business, this is what gets us up in the morning, this is why we're so passionate about the industry. I cannot tell you how many young brands, I talk to, and say, "Look, just because your mom likes it, doesn't mean everyone else will." It paints a really dark picture, right?

Michael: Yeah, I know.

Dan: But with that said, thank you so much for the great compliments, for reaching out to me, and finding me in the first place. Thank you so much for being on the podcast, for making time for us today. Again, thank you so much for your candor, your authenticity, your honesty. People, brands need to hear this. They need to understand what ... You know, and you need to be thinking about what questions they need to be asking their broker, their distributor, the retailers that they're working with. What you offer is tremendous.

Michael: Thank you.

Dan: Please send me a link to your website, and a link to any way to get ahold of you, because I would highly recommend that anyone reach out to you. Again, I'm a strong proponent of what you're doing, because this is the kind of a relationship, and emphasis on the word relationship, partnership, even better, that every brand should develop with every broker, distributor, agency, et cetera, that they're working with.

This is how you go from being a one-hit wonder to sticking around long. As I say, my mission is to make our healthy way of life more accessible, by getting your products on more retailer shelves, and into the hands of more shoppers. At the end of the day, if no one buys your stuff, you're irrelevant. This is how we drive change in the category. This is how we drive change in the industry.

So, thank you, Michael, for coming on. I look forward to our next conversation.

Michael: Same here, Daniel. Thank you, again, for your time and effort today. Thank you so much.

Dan: I want to thank Michael for coming on the podcast today and sharing his valuable insights. These are things, blocking, and tackling, things that every brand needs to do. how well you do these things will determine, literally determine, how long your product will be around, how long your brand will be around. A week, a day, a month, a year, or even longer.

These are the basics. These are the things that a lot of brands gloss over. These are the things that a lot of brands overlook things that they expect other people to handle for them, their brokers, their agencies, their distributors, et cetera. You need to own this. It's your brand. Your name's on the package.

You need to make sure that each and every opportunity that you have to get in front of a customer, in front of a retailer, is not squandered. Do not take for granted anything. Own every part of the selling process. Your brand strategy needs to be every bit as innovative as the ingredients in your package. Anything less, does your brand a disservice.

I'll include a link, along with information on how to get ahold of Michael, so you can learn more about what he does and how he helps brands like yours. Reach out to him. I'm impressed with his knowledge, I'm impressed with his understanding of the industry, and his ability to help align you, your brand, with the proper brand story that's going to help you succeed across all channels.

This week's free downloadable guide is a new item essential checklist. On today's podcast, we spend a lot of time talking about the basics. The things brand's need to do each and every day to ensure a sales success. The new item essential checklist, covers those details in depth. You can get it on the show notes and on this podcast webpage.

You can get there by going to Thank you, as always, for listening, and I look forward to seeing you in the next episode.

Michael J. O’Donnell:

This episode's FREE downloadable guide

New product innovation is the lifeblood of every brand. New products fuel sustainable growth, attracts new shoppers, and increases brand awareness. Know the critical steps to get your product on more retailer’s shelves and into the hands of more shoppers.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE STRATEGIC GUIDE: The Essential New Item Checklist - The Recipe For Success

Thanks again for joining us today. Make sure to stop over at for the show notes along with more great brand building articles and resources. Check out my free course Turnkey Sales Story Strategies, your roadmap to success. You can find that on my website or at Please subscribe to the podcast, leave a review, and recommend it to your friends and colleagues.

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Until next time, this is Dan Lohman with Brand Secrets and Strategies where the focus is on empowering brands and raising the bar.

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The Essential New Item Checklist – The Recipe For Success

New product innovation is the lifeblood of every brand. New products fuel sustainable growth, attracts new shoppers and increases brand awareness. Know the critical steps to get your product on more retailer’s shelves and into the hands of more shoppers.

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