Biz Brain Exchange with Buyer’s Best Friend’s Joyce Guan

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Since 2010, Buyer’s Best Friend has been changing the way makers, buyers, brokers, and sales reps interact. Founder Joyce Guan breaks it down for us. Here’s our conversation.

You’ve created the most direct way for sellers to connect to buyers.  Brilliant!  How does a new product get listed on the site?  Is there a vetted process?  Is there a fee?   

It’s really easy to get listed on Buyer’s Best Friend – sellers can sign up at www.BBFdirect.com/signup . They can then upload their product info and pricing, and my team creates their BBF seller page. Our 6,000+ wholesale buyers have instant access to the full wholesale product catalogs of over 2,000 different sellers – an amount of information that takes some buyers years to gather. It’s totally free to get listed on BBF and we don’t take any. We require that sellers be US companies with US health certificates and insurance policies (but their products can of course be imported).

Are there ways for sellers to increase the visibility of their profile on BBF?  
We offer both a free basic listing (100% free, no fees or commissions on orders at all) that has no active promotion/online ads for a seller’s products, a Premium Plan where we actively promote a seller’s products to buyers for $1700/year, as well as a program which is currently $699, where we send samples of a seller’s products out to 75 of our buyers – this is a huge cost savings from sellers sending samples out themselves. For small and growing companies, we also offer smaller-scale plans as well.

The more information that sellers provide to BBF, the more visibility they get as well, since the BBF catalog is enabled with advanced search tools. We can tag products with dietary attributes (gluten free, vegan) and certifications (non-GMO, organic) as long as sellers provide us with this information. Sellers can also put a link to their BBF listing on their own website, which enables buyers to access their wholesale info immediately, even if they’re doing their wholesale ordering and product research at 2am.

What is the relationship between BBF and brokers or distributors?  Do you recommend that sellers list on BBF as well as work with brokers?  What are the benefits?  

The cost of working with BBF is a flat fee, and can be thought of as a marketing fee, so that a seller can still have commissioned sales reps, brokers, and distributors — which we strongly recommend, because BBF doesn’t have hundreds of feet on the street to handle merchandising, upselling, doing demos, and many other services. When I was a food broker, I was happy to get a handful of new accounts per month. BBF regularly opens multiple accounts for one seller each day!

Brokers and distributors like BBF because we help them open new accounts, both large (like Whole Foods, The Fresh Market, Nordstrom, Google’s corporate campus) and small (we help them connect with thousands of independents that would cost them a fortune to reach out to otherwise). We send them new accounts and orders, and they still collect their usual commission. Once we help them open a new account, they can follow up with those accounts to sell them even more product, as well as support them with demos, marketing programs, merchandising help, etc.

Why did you decide to enter the consumer retail market with your stores?  Do you only carry BBF clients?

We started building our wholesale business first, and formed direct relationships with producers from all across the country providing us instant access to thousands of products.  Both buyers and sellers constantly asked us how they could more effectively sell new brands and specialized products.

We realized from their feedback that with the supply chain of artisan producers that we have, and our knowledge of what makes them special, we could create a new breed of store – one that would make new and innovative specialty and natural products the exclusive focus of the store, not a supplemental afterthought.  When a customer walks into the BBF stores, they can sample virtually anything in the store, and since we have less than a thousand products in the store, not 10,000 like a grocery store, our staff is trained on the story and details of any product we sell there.  A handmade artisan jam is sitting next to handmade artisan pickles, not a $2 jar of conventional jam that was mass produced.  So the most exciting thing we’ve created at the BBF retail stores is the right context for selling specialty products, one that enables consumers to discover and try artisanal products and introduce them to their friends.  By building this retail context we see ourselves accelerating the whole process of getting small producers’ products into the hands of the right audience.

Almost immediately we were flooded with customers, so we quickly opened our second location in North Beach and then our third in the Ferry Building.  We’re always on the lookout for new, innovative products for both retail and wholesale and we source most products and place all orders from the BBF catalog.  One of the benefits of being both a retailer and wholesale catalog is that when great producers join our catalog, we immediately order them for our store. While most buyers struggle to keep their product selection new, and work really hard to hear about new brands before they become available everywhere. BBF often hears about new brands a year before they launch, and the same is true for new stores that are opening.

We’ve expanded the number of stores so that we can help our artisan producers get into more and more consumers’ hands, faster.  We also love being the first store in the country to carry some of the newest and hottest brands out there.

BBF is an innovative, thriving business.  What is your advice for products entering the marketplace?  What’s your advice for those whose sales have flattened?  

I believe that if you start with a high quality, differentiated product that clearly targets specific types of customers, success will follow.  The current food product marketplace is extremely crowded, so another “me too” product will get lost.  I often tell new producers to position their product to hit as many different angles as possible — whether that’s great packaging, GMO-free, Gluten-free, or just plain tasty — sellers who touch many different areas while still being focused can be flexible by adapting to the market as trends continue to change.

Most successful new companies on the market are aggressive about getting tons of feedback early on – about pricing, packaging, product, concept, etc. Getting feedback early and enables you to build a product that customers want.

If a producer’s sales have flattened, they need to find paths to more consumers or they need to find ways to sell more product to the consumers they have already reached, or both.  To reach more consumers, a producer can find channels into new geographical regions — in other parts of the country or internationally — or just more ways for consumers to discover them locally.  Selling more to existing customers who already love a producer can come from brand extensions and new products; sometimes just asking customers and fans what else they would like to see from you can give you the best ideas!

 

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