Posted: Thu 17th Oct 2019
Selfridges buyer Adrian Boswell is responsible for stocking some of the most exciting new health and wellbeing brands in the country. But, as he explains, personality matters just as much as product.
For many start-ups, getting a product stocked in a high street store is the ultimate endorsement. It doesn't just help to boost sales and brand awareness - having a product on shelves gives you clout with investors and other buyers.
Boswell has been Selfridges' health and wellbeing buyer for almost three years. After initially starting out as a fishmonger at the store, he worked as a merchandiser and buyer's assistant before taking on his current role. He knows exactly what works for Selfridges' brand and customers.
"We're always looking for innovative new products that align with our brand ethos. We're looking for something you wouldn't regularly find in supermarkets," he explained.
To make sure shelves stay fresh and exciting, buyers need to stay ahead of the curve. It's important to keep track of trends and ensure items are in stock when the mass market starts looking for them.
"The biggest trends at the moment are in sustainability and ethical trading.The sustainability angle has been really popular for a while, whereas ethical trading has been on and off. Food has become a lifestyle - the type of food you eat is now similar to the type of clothes you wear and the type of beliefs you have," Boswell said.
Looking ahead, Boswell expects health to remain a dominant trend. In particular, he thinks protein powders, CBD, vegan products and "gut stuff" will continue to thrive. However, he emphasises that he's not exclusively looking for products that fit into a trend.
"The beauty of the role is that there's a lot of freedom and creative energy. We can push the boundaries with what we choose," he said.
Whether you're writing an email or approaching a buyer in person, figuring out what to say can be nerve racking. Boswell's advice is simple: buyers are people too, so speak to them the way you'd want to be spoken to.
It's important to talk about your product and, if you're approaching Selfridges, the product has to be premium. Boswell looks out for founders with a good personality too, who he could strike up a working relationship with. Above all, he looks for some background: "I want to see a story.
We love a great story."
In his experience, many start-ups get nervous and try to push their product too hard. For him, a claim that a product is "the best thing ever" is an immediate turn-off. But he admits that each buyer is different.
"I always think, let's just have a discussion. But that's me - some buyers might want a six page presentation. So much of it comes down to personality, but there's no real way of knowing what will work for each buyer. It's scary, but you just have to put yourself out there," he said.
To have the best chance of success with a buyer, you have to work by their schedule. If your product is seasonal, approach a buyer months in advance.
Consider the best timing for your own business, too. Before you approach a buyer, dedicate some time to boosting your profile first. A successful new product launch or social media campaign can stir up some excitement amongst your customers and create a buzz about your start-up.
"Get yourself out there so that your name is on the tip of peoples' tongues. Word of mouth is still so important," Boswell advises.
"We're looking for things that are on trend, but also things that could be the next trend. It doesn't have to be groundbreaking: it could be a twist, a unique flavour or something from a different continent. We don't just want another kombucha, for example: it has to stand out."
While the product you are pitching has to be good, Boswell will also be looking at the person behind the business. He appreciates honesty and likes to see a connection between the founder and their product.
As for a checklist of specifics you should include? Boswell believes founders should pitch the information that they think is important.
"A business should come with the information they think I need to know. It's your product, it's your business, it's your passion. Ultimately, you have to make these decisions," he said.
"Do what feels right and not what everyone is expecting you to do. The food industry is a creative industry, so think outside the box. There are no rules. Be strong what about what you're doing and why you're doing it. Don't let anyone distract you from what feels right about your business and your product."
Enter the Small Business Goes Big competition with Adobe Express to pitch your products to a panel of retail buyers and experts at StartUp Show in January 2023.