THE BLOG
09/30/2016 04:10 pm ET Updated Oct 01, 2017

It Takes More Than a Great Idea to Sell a Product

Take a look around the entrepreneurial landscape today, and you'd think all you need to succeed is to have a good idea. The field of entrepreneurship is littered with motivational messages urging us to quit our 9-5 day jobs, pitch a great idea, and then the money will magically start pouring in.

Sadly, this is not the case. There's a whole lot of legwork that goes on between having a great idea for a product and actually getting that product onto the shelf.

And nobody knows this better than Bonnie Harvey and Michael Houlihan, founders of Barefoot Wine and creators of The Barefoot Spirit, which provides business resources to hopeful entrepreneurs.

Harvey and Houlihan's idea was a fantastic one: they wanted to create a simple and dependable "Tuesday night" wine for moms who were shopping for a consistent, affordable, and easy-drinking wine staple they could depend on.

But as Harvey and Houlihan discovered, getting Barefoot Wine to the supermarket shelves was an arduous process.

In Houlihan's own words, "We thought we were in the wine business. You know, sniff, swirl, and sip. Forget about it! We were in the distribution management business."

Now, Barefoot is the #1 best-selling wine brand in the USA. As such, Harvey and Houlihan have three key pieces of advice for budding entrepreneurs who hope to sell their products in stores.

1. Businesses buy businesses, not ideas.

Launching a successful product means a lot more than coming up with a great idea, throwing it up on your personal ecommerce website, and waiting for the traffic to come in. Harvey says, "If you want to get paid for your idea, wrap it in a product, wrap your product in a brand, wrap your brand in a business, and build it 'til you sell it."

To get a better idea of what their business has to achieve to be acquisition target, the duo advises young entrepreneurs to take a business broker to lunch. Find out what similar businesses sold recently. What did they sell for? What was the multiple of earnings? What was their annual revenue, and so on?

2. Think beyond the internet.

Yes, we know - the internet is the future. And we're not opposed to selling your products on the internet - you should, in fact. Despite what online entrepreneurs might tell you, however, the internet isn't the be-all and end-all of modern commerce.

As Harvey points out, "If you want a large check, from a volume buyer, who can put your product in front of massive customers, you have got to sell it in bricks and mortar."

Think about it: how many of us have taken a trip to Target to buy one or two items, and left with a shopping cart full of new stuff? That's the power of notion buying, and is the reason why well over 90% of sales still take place in brick & mortar stores.

3. Understand the distribution system in order to access your end user.

Many entrepreneurs sell their products on the internet out of necessity: they simply don't know the distribution system well enough to get their products from cyberspace on to the shelf (or, alternatively, there is simply no room left on the shelf to begin with).

As Houlihan notes, if you want your brand to be for sale in the stores, you have to go through some kind of distribution. But if you put all your eggs in one basket and hope that one large box or chain store will deliver it to their outlets, you risk becoming dependent on them and limited to their company's customers. To that end, Harvey advises, "Try to have your product in as many different stores as possible to grow and protect your brand. This requires local warehousing and distribution."

The duo learned the hard way that in order to get their wine to their clients, they had to master the distribution channel. Not only was it fraught with widely varied and confusing laws and regulations, but they had to work closely with brokers, distributors, independent retailers, and chain stores. "Staying in stock in thousands of stores was our biggest challenge," Harvey recalls.

As Harvey and Houlihan have learned, there's a lot more to selling a product than just having a good idea. Indeed, ideas are powerful, but it takes much more than motivation and a positive attitude to get your product onto shelves. And for budding entrepreneurs who want see their products in big-name retailers - not just gathering cyber-dust on their personal ecommerce stores - the advice on this list is a great place to start.