Selling a great product with a great passion
Co-Founder of Melissa & Doug Toys, Sales Expert, Toy Inventor
If you are enthusiastic about your idea, your passion will become the product people want.
Start sales at the ground level, even if that means going door to door yourself.
The decisions you make early on will become a part of your company's DNA.
Lesson: Selling Your Vision with Melissa Bernstein
Step #2 CEO Sales: Selling a great product with a great passion
Sales at Melissa and Doug is really one of the things that we pride most and is the most special to the DNA of Melissa and Doug, and I think it's because Doug and I were our first salespeople. So when we say sales it's not even sales, it's really developing relationships with our customers to help them and, of course, in turn that helps everyone and it helps us and it just develops a full circle. So when Doug and I had our first product and wanted to get it out there, we had options. I should say we thought we had options. Most people didn't go directly to the customer. Most toy companies in our day went through a distributor; a third party that would take their product and then sell it into the retailers. But we knew very early on that nobody would give this one fledgling product the time of day because these reps, we called them, had 20 different lines, had a binder three inches thick and really didn't give a lot of attention to new products unless they immediately showed great promise, and our product, honestly, was not one of those.
Our product was the type that needed a lot of education and getting it out there and having stores really communicate with customers. We knew that a rep was not going to be able to do that for us. No fault of theirs necessarily, just that we had a product that was really complicated. So we made the decision, which ended up being, honestly, one of the best decisions. You sort of make those decisions early on and there are a few of them that become your core DNA and really stick with you through your entire tenure and that's one of them, and it was to do it ourselves. We really didn't even think twice about it because we knew we had no choice. We had put our live savings and an entire year into making this product and we knew that if we ourselves didn't communicate how amazing it was to the stores that it would just disappear and we'd be back working for someone else which was not something we wanted to do again.
So we decided we would take this product, we would put it in the back of our cars, we would head separate directions and we would go directly to the stores to sell it, and that's what we did for the first few years of our business. We went door to door, I should say store to store. Store to store, door to door, and really went into the stores. No appointment, which was completely unprecedented. It was a very, the toy industry is a very old, I guess you'd say stodgy, routinized industry with suits and appointments and briefcases and we totally did what nobody had ever done. We went into these stores, no appointments, said, "Hi, we're here. Please can we show you our product" and really begged them, sometimes on bended knee and sometimes with lots of tears, to carry our products. They gave in and what most of them said was it wasn't because of the product it was because of the two of us. In fact, one of the most profound statements that, of course, I still remember was, "It's too bad you guys don't have a good selling product because we really like you."
So it really became, ironically, that Doug and I were the product more that the product was the product because they were buying us because we were so passionate and so compelling and so convincing and really told them if it doesn't sell, we'll take it back. We wanted to do anything to get the product in their hands, and that's what we did for the first few years.