Ask @RetailPhil: Choosing a Distribution Channel That Works For You


For the last few weeks, our amazing brands have been talking about choosing a broker, distributor or heading straight to the retailer. Do you know if you need a broker? A distributor? Ready to take on retailers by yourself? Read on to find out how a broker or distributor can help you.

Before you choose one of the alternatives, you need to know what you’re good at. Sounds silly right? It’s not! The easiest thing to do is to think that you must do everything yourself. Most of our intrepid brand owners already hold 5 or 6 jobs. Chris Jensen from Precidio told our Hubba coffee group last week that he is VP of sales, Customer Success, Customer Service and E-commerce. Sometimes you just need someone that can take one of those hats and make your life a little simpler – a broker or a distributor can do that.

Most brands we meet are really good at making products. If you’re a growing brand, you’re busy building it and selling it. Building the brand means making products, marketing products, being the evangelist for your products and trying to social media to talk about all of the above.

Selling the brand means doing things that you either love or hate. Selling the product (interacting with retailers) and shipping the product. Brands are in business because they make really great products. When you’re just beginning, building a grassroots following is easy to do. By word of mouth, Brittanie’s Thyme built up a 200 door network to sell their products to. The next step is not so easy – penetrating small and medium sized retailers is a lot of footwork, connections and pure selling.

A broker brings expertise here. They have retailers they work with already, and a pure sense of what a retailer requires to list and sell your products. Brokers are usually focused on selling and have all the tools you need to execute with a retailer.

Ask lots of questions and find out what brands your broker already represents. Pay attention to specifics like what regions the broker is strong in and what categories the broker has already worked in? A broker can also bring collective buying power by bringing many brands to a retailer for consideration. Many retailers like this because this reduces the amount of brands that a buying team has to deal with.

A distributor will help you handle your shipping and orders. They’re really good at making sure that cases don’t get lost and orders get fulfilled. If you work with multiple E-commerce sites, you may want to think about this to help keep your orders on time and fulfilled.

Some other advantages to consider for both avenues. Bigger brokers have sales representatives that will head to individual stores. This increases your profile because local sales representatives have lots of influence over their territories. Store Managers trust and rely on these reps to keep their store up to date.

This is the tip of the iceberg. In the coming weeks, you’ll see more amazing brands and hear them talk about why they chose a broker, a distributor or simply decided to do it all themselves. If you have more questions, ask me! I’d be happy to help you figure out which model works for you.


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As the Retail Industry Manager at Hubba, Phil is responsible for uncovering both emerging trends and insights that may impact businesses engaged in commerce. With 20 years of experience under his belt, Phil helps brands and retailers adapt to the the new realities of retail and the next generation of commerce. Phil is a frequent speaker at industry events in Canada and the US, across multiple verticals, and is a featured writer in trade publications such Retail TouchPoints, Pet Product News, BikeBiz, and more.