How Indie Beauty Brand Founders Deal With Nonresponsive Retail Buyers

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 11 brand founders and executives: How do you handle nonresponsive retail buyers?

Brian Oh CEO and Co-founder of VENN Skincare

Being persistent and patient have helped when dealing with non-responsive buyers. I think it’s important to understand that buyers constantly get inundated with information on new brands and products. Sometimes your email might get lost, or it may simply take time for a buyer to process everything and get back to you.

So, having patience with the process, and being persistent by checking in with the buyer and updating the buyer with any new and exciting information seem to always be helpful. For us, very recently, a buyer from one of the top luxury department stores reached out to us wanting to list us with their department stores and their new boutique store. We had reached out to the retailer six months ago and, although they were non-responsive, we constantly updated them with new information and the progress of the brand.

Lisa Pineiro Founder and CEO, Glotrition

This used to be a really frustrating thing for me. I didn’t understand why buyers were so hard to connect with! After we hired our broker, Nathan Judd with CCI, I started to understand their world a little better. Buyers aren’t ignoring you. They’re just swamped. In the old days, each buyer would handle just a handful of brands. But, now, those same buyers are expected to juggle upwards of 75 to 100 brands.

So, make your correspondence have an impact. Catch their attention with something new and exciting, and you’ll likely get a response. Hiring a well-connected broker is a must. And, on accounts that our broker doesn’t handle, I’ve had great luck connecting with buyers via social media and LinkedIn.

Mariska Nicholson Founder, Olive + M

Coming up against difficult or non-responsive buyers is just a simple reality in any consumer sales industry. However, as indie brands, these walls can tend to feel a little bit higher most weeks. That said, the obstacle is generally handled the same way as it would for other more established brands, through persistence.

If you don’t get a response to your first couple pitch attempts or you receive a “not at this time” response, you can always connect with your network, approach the pitch from new angles and continue to reach out with brand updates as they allow. This includes taking advantage of trade shows and platforms like Indie Beauty Expo, and showing up consistently to show buyers that your brand is here for the long game.

DAVID SIMNICK CEO and Co-Founder, Soapbox

It's about showing the full package. While sales are obviously a huge deciding factor for a retailer to take on your brand, you also want to show them other capabilities. For instance, marketing collaborations. Highlight ways your brand has, in the past and plans for the future, executed retailer collaborations such as in-store activations, newsletters, social media pushes, ads, etc. It's about selling the big picture of what your brand can bring to the retail buyer's set.

I always try to put myself in a buyer's shoes. They're overworked, often understaffed, and get inundated with emails, calls, texts, carrier pigeons, smoke signals (OK, probably not the last two, but everything you can imagine and then some). If I email, I try to make the email short, sweet and to the point while conveying the rationale on why I'm asking for something. If they go completely unresponsive, and it is absolutely necessary, I find a broker and/or another buyer that can help me get in touch with them. I think of it this way, be warm and persistent, but put yourself in their shoes.

Beatriz Durango Founder and Managing Director, Novellus Skin Care

I have found from my own personal experience that, as an indie brand, you really have to work to earn the trust and respect of your customers and buyers. We all have moments where everything is going great. You have a fantastic rapport with your customers, and along comes one who turns everything into an issue.

What can feel like a personal attack on something you have worked so long and hard to create is not the judgement you think it is. Buyers experience frustration for many different reasons, so I move everything aside and always find a solution in a positive and professional manner.

I often find with nonresponsive buyers that the best approach is to try and let them know that you are a real human on the other end of the line who values their feedback and input, personalizing my message and even offering a gesture of goodwill can be what it takes to get a mute buyer to share their experience.

Maya Crothers Founder, Circcell

I think you just have to be persistent in a respectful and meaningful way. Occasional check-ins with a quick, succinct e-mail announcing something new and relevant (great press piece, new product launch, etc.) to keep them updated and at front of mind is a good way to stay in touch.  

I don't believe a heavy hand works and neither does total non-communication. The best way we have found to get in touch with a buyer is through a relevant connection. Nothing works as well as an introduction.

Amber Fawson Co-Founder, Saalt

We’re believers that indie brands need a tenacious attitude when it comes to buyers and hearing the word "no." For Saalt specifically, we’re not only competing with bigger players in the industry, but also with the long-held stigma surrounding period care. We do hear from some buyers (female buyers especially) that they do not want to add feminine hygiene into their stores as it might tarnish the high-end beauty section they are curating.

Meanwhile, other thought-leading buyers openly choose to expand the category just to accommodate the Saalt Cup. Saalt is all about busting period stigmas, so hearing things like this just gives us more drive to find the buyers and stores that believe in pushing this conversation forward and offering their customers an option for universally better period care.

Anne Kukkohovi Founder, Supermood

Buyers are virtually attacked with so many new brands daily. I understand that they can’t always answer or respond as quickly as we would like. I’d recommend patience and faith in your own brand and vision.     

We have been really fortunate to work with buyers who have found the same love for the brand that we have. Retailers like Bluemercury and Dermstore have been great at promoting the brand and sharing our vision with their customers. The buyers have helped us form a partnership with the account and the consumer.

Paayal Mahajan Founder, Essential Body

In my experience, patience and tenacity are key. Being an entrepreneur requires the strength to hear what I call "the deafening silence of unanswered emails and calls." This is so much more than just sales being good. When I started Essential Body, I had clarity on two things: what I had created was thoughtful and stellar, and that not everyone would fawn all over my products. I knew who my target audience was, and I had to work on looking at avenues that got me to them.

I follow a few golden rules in life and in business: Nobody owes me anything, I must stay true to myself and my fundamental values, and allow things to flow. Ultimately, handling difficult or unresponsive buyers is about being patient and not losing faith in oneself. Buyers are busy people. And, frankly, difficult buyers and clients always help me up my game.

This world is a very big place and there is room for everyone. I think of it almost like dating. I believe in myself enough to know while things may not always work out with one person, there's someone out there who is looking for exactly me. Question is, do I value my brand enough to discern whether they're the right fit for me? As much as buyers hold the power to say no, so do I.

Ju Rhyu Co-Founder and CEO, Hero Cosmetics

I pitch and reach out to buyers all the time. I just take "no" as a "no for now" and make my own plans to follow in a few months. As for nonresponsive buyers, similarly, I just check in periodically as their buying priorities change over time and, as our business grows and becomes more mature, we become more attractive for different types of retailers.

DANUTA DUDEK Founder, Cotarde

With patience, a lot of it. Difficult buyers may put you off at some point, so it’s a matter of each individual case. The nonresponsive ones are usually very busy, so you’ve got to find a way to go around their packed schedules without harassing them. As a rule of thumb, we prefer to back off a bit and give them some space. We understand they have their business to do, and we are just a part of it.

If you have a question you’d like Beauty Independent to ask beauty entrepreneurs, please send it to [email protected].