Let’s make sense of things with Rick Pontz.
Every year I am amazed at both the professionalism and poise of some vendors, and also the lack of preparation of others. What is Drop Ship? We only have one line of pricing. What are SKU’s? These are just a few of the things I have heard over the years that make me cringe. So I interviewed our good friend and industry expert Rick Pontz and asked him to shed some light on how to prepare for the quickly approaching National Lawn & Garden Show, which is less than 30 days from now.
How long have you been in the industry and what got you here in the first place? I started in the Lawn & Garden industry 32 years ago as the National Sales Manager for New England Pottery. Prior to working with New England Pottery I was a regional manager for Gillette and thought selling pottery would be a lot more challenging than selling razor blades. It is!
When did you first attend NLGS? The first year I attended NLGS was in 1996. That was 19 years ago and I haven’t missed one since. I made a mistake one year and accidentally booked a vacation at the same time as the NLGS event. It cost me a fortune to change my vacation bookings not to mention a lot of explaining to my wife.
Is there a fun story from NLGS that sticks out in your mind since it’s conception in 1995? There is a great story regarding the NLGS’s VIA Sponsorship event that involves, an open bar, a diverted shuttle bus, meeting Clint Eastwood at his private function in Truckee, and 3 hours of sleep. I can’t tell the story here to protect both the innocent and the guilty but I’ll be glad to share the story with anyone who asks me personally at the event this year. See you there!
As you know, it can be easy to show up to a big meeting less prepared than you should have been. Can you think of a story that illustrates an unprepared vendor? I remember one year I met a vendor who thought he knew his products and company well enough that he could make the presentations by the seat of his pants. He showed up at his appointments not understanding all the changes that had taken place within the past year, without accurate selling material or the appropriate prices or marketing material but raved about what a great product he had even though the sample he brought didn’t reflect his new and improved product. I met him a few months later at another event and he complained that NLGS was not very effective for him. Go figure!
As a New Vendor preparing to meet with up to 40 diverse buyers ranging from Multi-Unit independents to buying groups to Wholesale distributors, what questions should vendors be prepared to answer? 1) Why is your product unique? 2) Why would my customers be interested in your product? 3) How will my customer know about the uniqueness and value of your products 4) How will my customer know they can buy your product from me? 5) How are you going to support me in selling your product? 6) How will I make money selling your product?
Remember the appointment is not about you or your products. The appointment is about a buyer who is taking three days out of his/her schedule to look for new, innovative and profitable products that will grow his/her business. Your job during the appointment is to show the buyer how your product and company will meet his/her objectives.
If you were 3 weeks away from attending, what would you do to prepare for NLGS? Great question! 1) Ensure all your samples, selling material, marketing materials and leave-behind materials are complete and are guaranteed to arrive a few days prior to the event. Then, have a back-up plan just in-case a perfect storm of errors happen. You’ll only have one shot of doing this event right. 2) Research all the buyers that are going to be at the event. Be sure you understand their business model, their needs and wants, their customers, as well as what their expectations are of their vendors. Nothings worse than presenting a distributor at dealer pricing. 3) Prepare separate presentations for each channel of trade you will be presenting to and insure you have extra copies of all presentations and materials. 4) If some of the appointments you have are with current accounts make sure you are up to date on their sales history, sell-through of your products, and any pending issues that may affect your presentation to them. Study them the same way you would if you didn’t know them. 5) Rehearse your 10 minute presentation with a colleague, but rehearse it to take only eight minutes. It will take practice, but if you have it nailed down for an eight minute presentation instead of the full 10, it takes all the pressure off and you can be flexible and more casual.
Any tips on the 10 minute appointments format? 1) Keep on point. You have 10 minutes for your presentation that will probably end up being only 8 minutes after the introductions, exchange of business cards, talk of the weather or venue. 2) Once you get your appointment list, organize your appointment material in sequence to your appointments so you won’t be wasting time looking for the right price list or sample or advertising. 3) Remember the appointment is not about you or your products. The appointment is about a buyer who is taking three days out of his/her schedule to look for new, innovative and profitable products that will grow his/her business. Your job during the appointment is to show the buyer how your product and company will meet his/her objectives.
What are the most common errors vendors make at NLGS? 1) Talking for all 10 minutes. A presentation is a communication exchange not a monologue. What you say in the presentation is not that important. What the buyer says IS very important. When making your presentation, present it in a manner that encourages the buyer to comment or respond. When they communicate, try to adjust your presentation to the areas that the buyer believes are important. Don’t make a rigid presentation but a flexible one. 2) Spending way, way too much time in the presentation talking about the idiosyncrasies or the minute development of their products rather than showing the buyer how your product and company will help the buyers company grow and meet their objectives. 3) Making a one-size-fits-all presentation. Each channel of distribution has a different model of how they do business and how the value and price products. You will need to make separate presentations to fit each channel of distribution you will be selling to. 4) Not following through with the buyer in either sending material, samples or answering questions or providing requested information. That is the #1 complaint of the buyers at this event.
Are there any commonalities you observe between companies that do well at NLGS? The most successful companies we see at the NLGS are the ones who come to the event well prepared, who have researched and spent time understanding the buyers businesses and current objectives as well as the buyers struggles and also follows through promptly after the event.
In your opinion, what are the major benefits of attending NLGS? Have you seen companies do well at NLGS? 25 or 30 appointments with qualified buyers in a three day period at a low cost per appointment is a great start. The ability to present your new or updated products and programs face-to-face verses turning over the responsibility to someone else will give you the best shot at success. If you make 30 presentations to 30 qualified buyers and you can’t sell most of them, who can? The NLGS is a great event to obtain a broad based feedback and analysis of your products and company as well a great jump start for any new product.
If you could give one piece of advice to first time NLGS attendees, what would it be? Primarily, the most important things is to put in the work to adequately prep to meet with buyers. After that, attend the Freshman Orientation meeting! This happens the night before appointments begin and is a great informal way to connect with seasoned veterans about what to expect and how to succeed. I’ll be there this year and it is very helpful to new attendees. After that, cowboy up and deliver what is expected.
Rick Pontz is an author, speaker, veteran business development expert in the lawn and garden industry, and founded The Lawn & Garden Performance Group, LLC. Every time I spend a few minutes with Rick, I walk away with invaluable insight and great ideas with tangible action items. He has mentored countless others over the years and is one of the best consultants I know. You can meet Rick and others at NLGS this June or check out his latest book, Just Grow Up Trade Secrets to Bringing your Lawn and Garden Product to Market.
Want to register for the 2015 National Lawn & Garden Show? As of this posting there are still a few spots. Give us a call or email me!
719 – 488 – 0226