The 2019 Made in Montana Tradeshow is coming up on March 15 an 16! With that in mind, we wanted to share a few tips on how to excel in the retail space from last year’s winner of our Retailer of the Year award: Gwen Croghan of Chalet Market in Belgrade.
The charming chalet-style store was first opened in 1976 by a group of local ranchers who were looking for a way to locally sell their meat. Croghan bought the store in 2012, and carries on this tradition by sourcing her products locally, regionally and from across Montana – in addition to producing her own.
Croghan sat down with us to tell us what she looks for when sourcing product and how producers can increase their impact in the retail space.
Tell me about your store.
The store has been here for over 40 years. In that entire time, its focus has been to sell Montana made products as a retailer, but we also manufacture sausage and other snack meats, so we’re really on both sides of the Made in Montana business model.
Why do you choose to carry Made in Montana products?
I think it sells better. There’s always a story, and most likely you know the story well because you met the person that made the product.
As retailers we have such a large choice – the Made in Montana market is really strong, so even though there are other retailers who sell Made in Montana products, we still have the ability to really differentiate.
What do you look for when considering a product to carry?
It’s the little things! We want a nice, clear and easy order form. UPC codes really help, otherwise we have to make them. Packaging is important, too. A nice label and clean packaging definitely helps.
As far as products – I’m always looking for something different, like a classic product that has a Montana twist. For example, Huckleberry honey, teas and coffees are always good sellers. But more than this, I always look for a quality product that is consistently good.
How do you find new products?
We attend the Made in Montana Tradeshow as producers, and it is a great opportunity for us to check out what other people are doing. We also attend the Billings Market. But mostly, I just keep my eyes open around the state while I’m traveling. If I see a product that catches my eye, I’ll research it. I also look online and use social media. Having an online presence is essential in todays market.
What is the most unexpected or creative thing a producer has done to hook your business?
I appreciate it when people reach out to me and customize something for me, specifically. They have done their research and sell "me" to myself, but in their flavor. When a producer offers a solution to one of my problems, I’m much more inclined to buy.
And again, the visual aspect is so important. Nice packaging, a strong presence at tradeshows with unique display space really goes a long way.
How can trade show exhibitors get more mileage out of a show weekend?
Be a good salesperson. When a retailer approaches your booth, make sure you embody a really happy attitude. I know everyone has a different selling style, but putting yourself out there to really engage with buyers makes a big difference. You’ll be amazed at how well you’ll do if you push yourself, and get out there and talk to people. You have to remember it’s about connecting with people and really listening to them.
As a show exhibitor, what do you do to ensure you’re on point?
Sometimes I give myself a pep talk. Really! I tell myself if I can get through these 8 hours smiling, I’ve done a good day. I almost have to pretend – I think that’s what makes good sales people good, they can turn that engagement on and off.
Any other advice for retailers of producers?
If retailers don’t carry many Made in Montana items, they should really try to expand and introduce it into what they already carry. It’s just such a nice option for tourists. People feel really proud, to own something that was Made in Montana, and even more proud to give it as a gift.
For producers wanting to get into the wholesale space: just go for it. Get all your ducks in a row and jump in. You never know what a given day will bring, so you just have to take it one step at a time.