1797 – The Key to Retail Success with Bryan Alston

In this episode of the Thoughtful Entrepreneur, your host Josh Elledge speaks with the Co-Founder & Managing Partner of Brand Castle, Bryan Alston.

Alston Wide

Brand Castle Growth Partners has carved out a niche in the retail industry by assisting e-commerce brands in getting their products onto store shelves and providing invaluable support in branding and marketing strategies. Bryan emphasized these elements' critical role in ensuring a brand's success across various retail channels.

Brian shed light on the stark differences between selling products online and in physical stores. He pointed out that each channel's competition and consumer behavior differ.

For instance, brands that have established a strong online presence and cultivated a loyal customer base have a significant advantage. They are better positioned to negotiate favorable terms with retailers and secure prime placement in stores, which can be a game-changer in a competitive market.

Bryan stressed the importance of profitability and a deep understanding of the target customer base before considering such an expansion. He also touched on the necessity of systematically assessing operational readiness and the brand's unique selling propositions before engaging with retail partners.

Bryan's expertise shone through as he highlighted the significance of staying abreast of trends and consumer preferences. These factors heavily influence retail buyers' decisions, and brands must align their products with these emerging trends.

Key Points from the Episode:

  • Importance of branding and marketing for e-commerce brands
  • Differences between selling products online and in physical stores
  • Insights on negotiating favorable terms with retailers
  • Timing and considerations for transitioning from e-commerce to physical retail
  • Assessment of operational readiness and unique selling propositions
  • Significance of trends and consumer preferences in the retail landscape
  • Criteria for identifying businesses ready for partnership with Brand Castle Growth Partners
  • Importance of existing online presence, customer engagement, and niche market positioning

About Bryan Alston:

Bryan Alston is a distinguished speaker, consultant, and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) renowned for his expertise driving substantial return on investment (ROI) for burgeoning companies.

His strategic prowess lies in deploying avant-garde performance marketing and growth hacking tactics that endure over time, contrasting with prevalent short-term strategies.

Alston is a versatile professional, blending classical retail expertise with cutting-edge digital marketing acumen. His distinctive approach encompasses a comprehensive understanding of the marketing landscape and ecosystem.

Notably, he navigates upcoming trends and draws insights from historical strategies, demonstrating a forward-thinking yet grounded perspective.

About Brand Castle:

Brand Castle is a dynamic operator-led growth consultancy and venture studio with a mission to propel high-potential consumer brands to the pinnacle of their respective categories.

With an extensive background covering ecommerce, brick-and-mortar retail, and more, the seasoned team at Brand Castle and its expansive network provide invaluable mentorship to foster the development of iconic, enduring companies.

Their goal is to steer these brands toward achieving the coveted status of number one in their markets. With decades of experience, Brand Castle positions itself as a vital resource for entrepreneurs seeking to build robust and lasting success in the competitive landscape of consumer goods.

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Links Mentioned in this Episode:

Want to learn more? Check out Brand Castle website at

Check out Brand Castle on LinkedIn at

Check out Bryan Alston on LinkedIn at

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Josh (00:00:04) - Hey there, thoughtful listener. Would you like consistent and predictable sales activity with no spam and no ads? I'll teach you step by step how to do this, particularly if you're an agency owner, consultant, coach, or B2B service provider. What I teach has worked for me for more than 15 years and has helped me create more than $10 million in revenue. Just head to up my and watch my free class on how to create endless high ticket sales appointments. You can even chat with me live and I'll see and reply to your messages. Also, don't forget the thoughtful entrepreneur is always looking for guests. Go to up my and click on podcast. We'd love to have you. With us right now it's Bryan Alston. Bryan, you are the co-founder and managing partner of Brand Castle Growth Partners. You found on the web at Brand Bryan, thank you so much for joining us.

Bryan (00:01:13) - Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

Josh (00:01:15) - All right. Yeah. Give us an overview of what Brand Castle is.

Bryan (00:01:18) - Yeah sure. So essentially Brand Castle is focused on helping e-commerce brands not only succeed online, but to become omnichannel by succeeding in stores and online. We not only facilitate the entire process for getting you into as many doors as possible, but more importantly, we help with the branding and the marketing required for you to actually succeed when you're in 1000 2000 plus doors. That's the CliffsNotes version of Brand Castle. But there's a lot of, like, minutia that we focus on that we think gives us our secret sauce.

Josh (00:01:55) - Yeah. How is it different? You know, for someone who says, well, I'm going to start selling an E-comm versus, well, I'm gonna start selling on store shelves. It's kind of a little bit of a different journey for each, I believe.

Bryan (00:02:10) - Yeah, totally. So I'll start with the store shelves group first and sort of what I've seen, you know, in the 12 years I've been doing this in the space, which is a lot of brands might have an excellent product and maybe they had a really good meeting with their buyer.

Bryan (00:02:25) - They, you know, have a product that people bought it, they would most likely enjoy it. But if you think about the massive amount of competition you have on shelf in the store and really how passive it is, like you don't know who's exactly walking down that aisle at any given day. And like, why would they choose you over one of the leading brands? It just sort of puts a lot of fate in other people's hands, like versus the brands who have started online first. Unlike some of the past clients I've worked with, like Magic Spoon or Our Place or some of these other e-commerce brands that used online, plus Amazon to grow their brand. To really get a massive online email and SMS list, they were able to have a bunch of hype on social media, which not only gave them a lot of poker chips, needed to go into the meetings with Target and Whole Foods, and whoever it is to negotiate fewer or no slotting fees to not have to pay them for as much advertising through their own internal networks, etc. but more importantly, they were also able to negotiate really prime placement in the stores.

Bryan (00:03:34) - Because if you think about it, brick and mortar is a real estate play and there might only be like 6 to 12in of space on a shelf where there's room for a new brand to play. And if you're a buyer who has to fill that space with a hot brand, you're going to be far more likely to take a brand that's already showing signs of hype and growth online, and in addition to that, has really good on like repeat purchase rates, has a really good marketing funnel that they've been able to show works online and on Amazon, etc. it just sort of de-risk it for the buyer. And again, when you're already on shelf in the store, you're going to have more levers to pull as a brand to actually sell the units needed when you're on shelf at target, which for some reason doesn't really get thought about, a lot of brands are like, hey, we're in target, we're in all these doors. And then six months later, those doors go down because they aren't able to get as much on like foot traffic or unit sales as needed.

Bryan (00:04:37) - Um, to stay there.

Josh (00:04:38) - Yeah, well, that's got to be. And I want to give you a shout out for some of the brands that you've worked with, because I'm familiar with some of them. You mentioned Magic Spoon. That is a, uh, it's a great cereal brand for for those that want to kind of cut down on the sugar and the carbs, I believe. Right.

Bryan (00:04:56) - Right.

Josh (00:04:57) - Yeah. Also, a lot of, uh, the quest nutrition Celsius clove I've seen for cinematic. So this is kind of interesting. And you're absolutely right. Like, if I'm a buyer for target and I have someone that comes in, they're like, yeah, we've already been selling for years and we have a devoted following. And guess what? They're coming into your store looking for our product and they can't find it. That's kind of coming in from a pretty strong negotiation standpoint.

Bryan (00:05:26) - 100%. And that's exactly what happened with Quest Nutrition. So my co-founder at Bran Castle, like Yemeni mesa, he was the former chief sales officer for quest, join them when they were doing about $20 million through 500 million.

Bryan (00:05:40) - And that's exactly what happened with them. They had offers to go into stores for many years that they intentionally turned down because they wanted to build this brand and build this critical mass online. And then when they did go into stores with, again, this huge business that was in demand, customers were asking the retailers for these bars that were so delicious, they were able to say, hey, we want to be on this shelf right here. We want this endcap display. We don't want to pay slotting fees. We want to partner with you on exclusive seasonal flavors, etc. they were able to sort of go in and provide value and provide a lot of strong business for the buyer versus the other way around, which is just being one of many bars that is hoping to use the like massive distribution that, let's say a target has to sell their product, when in reality it's going to be very difficult to do if you don't have any sort of online presence or sort of what I call a canon that you can use to drive the foot traffic and drive the demand, if needed to the stores, and how that, unlike manifest, depends on the product.

Bryan (00:06:58) - It could be your email list. It could be you constantly going viral on TikTok. It could be other things.

Josh (00:07:04) - Yeah. And share just a little bit about timing, Bryan, when is too early and when is kind of just right for someone that's already doing well on E-com to start having those conversations with the stores.

Bryan (00:07:19) - A great question, and I don't know if there's sort of a one size fits all time. I always like to look at brands that I've audited and just like looked at their analytics to say, okay, what is your business profitable? Like if you're going to go into stores, which is going to be a massive purchase order, it's going to totally change the cash cycles of your business, etc.. Is this going to do what's called growing brogue, which is you are technically growing your top line revenue and you're getting tons of new customers and tons of distribution. But if each of those Pos that you are signing are going to put you deeper in the hole financially, then that's not a good time to go into stores for obvious reasons.

Bryan (00:08:02) - Plus, there's also, um, a lot of examples in this could perhaps be its own episode about a lot of brands not knowing who their customers really are. And if I had to, like, zoom out and look at my entire career and all the brands I've worked with, the ones who have done the best not only online but as an omnichannel brand are ones who have a very, very clear and intimate understanding of exactly who their customers are, not just in terms of their demographics, but, you know, like, what are the other items in their house that they're purchasing outside of your category? How do you fit into their daily life? You know, like, what are some of the publications or Instagram followers or like influencers etc., that they follow. So that way, again, you have a more well-rounded picture of the lifestyle of your target customer and the levers you can pull as the brands to help them be better people with your product, of course. And what I've noticed, a lot of the brands that we've talked to since we started Greencastle, who are looking to go into stores, don't know that information.

Bryan (00:09:07) - They might not know exactly who their customer is. They just know, well, you know, it's a woman who does yoga like. Mm. That's not specific.

Josh (00:09:17) - Nice try.

Bryan (00:09:18) - Yes. I mean, that's great. I do need to be.

Josh (00:09:20) - A little bit more specific.

Bryan (00:09:22) - Exactly. And again like just think about this from a 30,000 foot view. If you know exactly who your customer is, you might know like, hey, she or he is more likely to shop at this specific chain of stores than the target or the Walmart or the Whole Foods. Sort of like the the A-list stores that everyone wants. Hey, perhaps our customers tend to be more geographically clustered. Perhaps there's a more local or regional store chain that we can start with that may not report their unit sales to spins or to some of these other platforms. And the reason I say that is because like again, say that you are an up and coming brand and you're just like getting your feet wet. Maybe you're doing a few hundred thousand dollars a year and you go into target without the, um, the production capacity, without the cash on hand, needed to make all of those units and get them actually shipped to target on time and all of that.

Bryan (00:10:22) - And you don't have the marketing engine to drive the unit sales you need. It's not over for your business. It doesn't work, but it's going to be very difficult versus if you, let's say, um, started at a more regional retailer that maybe has a few hundred doors in a part of the country, and you're able to sort of use that almost as the training wheels retailer, where they probably aren't going to have the same sort of like slotting fees or things that are going to cut into your margin that a big retailer will, but you're going to be able to, again, use that as a case study to be like, hey, we were able to send an email out to all of our customers in this region, and we saw this impact to our unit sales in the store. Hey, we were able to do X, Y, and Z like guerrilla marketing tactics in order to win here. Again, when you go to target or to one of the bigger retailers with those case studies in mind, you're going to have far more poker chips at the table versus if you went to a retailer that reported your unit sales to spend or to some of these other platforms, target's going to know, hey, you're only selling two units a week.

Bryan (00:11:30) - Yeah, sorry, that's a little light. So again, it's sort of like thinking about how you can craft the biggest invest success story, not only for your business, but also for these retailers and using e-commerce when possible to facilitate that, that process.

Josh (00:11:48) - Yeah. And I would imagine, Bryan, a lot of let's say you have someone coming through the door and they're like, hey, you know, we're doing about a half million right now and annual sales and e-com, I would imagine, like the initial engagement is probably going to be a lot around. Are you ready? And kind of this deep assessment of what's going on operationally, you know, what kind of work they've done on understanding their USP, like. Right. Um, I would imagine like that's got to be kind of a, I don't want to say fun process, but, you know, at least a pretty systemic process of, of kind of going through that checklist to kind of this almost like retail readiness test 100%.

Bryan (00:12:31) - And that's something that we have, like we do have sort of our our checklist, our audit, whatever you want to call it.

Bryan (00:12:38) - Um, in order to like, really figure out if you're ready, it's worth pointing out that we don't wait until we're finished with that to get the ball rolling, because it can take many months. You know, of before you actually get in front of a buyer. So for us, we like to start that process, you know, as early as possible while we're also working on like getting the business completely set up and ready. And there are some instances where some of our clients just really aren't ready at all to be put in front of a buyer. Like there might be some, um, like, issues with their product formula. There might be like, again, they might not have the capacity with their current manufacturer to even make enough units of their product for a purchase order, etc.. So again, we try to be, you know, as mindful of the business's needs as possible. And I mean just being totally frank, given the the state of funding, you know, for consumer businesses right now, a lot of brands need to go into retail.

Bryan (00:13:35) - They need to prove that they can be omnichannel. So we just like work alongside them with that process. But the problem with a lot of these other retail brokers out there is they will literally just be like, okay, we don't really need to know what any of that stuff. We're just going to put you on shelf in as many stores as possible. And that's it. And like what my co-founder noticed when he was, um, a retail broker himself before quest is it just wasn't enough. Like they would get on the shelf and then some of these brands that, again, had really passionate founders and really excellent products within 6 to 12 months were gone because there wasn't enough of that assessment done beforehand, nor was there enough marketing done after they were on shelf to really make them succeed. So for us, we're just like seeing this problem happen to so many founders and retailers. Or it's like retail startups. So we just wanted to actually, you know, join forces and like figure out how we can help these companies avoid the the wrong type of beard for their business.

Bryan (00:14:41) - Yeah.

Josh (00:14:42) - Um, well, you seem like a really, really great partner to come along at the right time for a particular type of, you know, again, for a particular type of e-commerce leader. Um, so someone that might be listening to our conversation right now, any other indications that maybe someone they know might be perfectly ready for you? And, and then I guess, what would those first steps be for that person that's kind of ripe and ready for you?

Bryan (00:15:10) - Yeah, that's a great question. I would say it's someone who has already launched their business online. Maybe they're doing like let's say $100,000 a year. So it doesn't have to be huge. But they have like really good like feedback for their products. They have perhaps a decent size like email and SMS list. You know, they have like pretty good social following. And again, these numbers don't have to be huge. It could be we have 10,000 followers, but they are really engaged people. There's clearly some sort of a niche there.

Bryan (00:15:42) - And then like for us what we would do is we would just like run our respective assessment. Mine would be more on the marketing and the customer and the branding side, and Yemenis would be more on the product and the retail readiness side. Because again, one other thing to point out is, you know, these buyers are also susceptible to trends, you know, just like the consumers are. So they're always looking for, okay, if we have this opening in our shelf space, like, what are the up and coming trends in the next 12 to 24 months that consumers might like? And are there any brands, even if they're super small, that might fit into that where we can give them some shelf space? So again, we want to think about is this product something that could be marketed not only to the consumer but to the buyer to fill that, that lane in Yemeni is extremely, um, in tune with sort of like what the needs are of these retail partners. Um, and then from there we would just like run our assessment and then we would craft a completely tailored expansion plan for this business, not only for the brick and mortar expansion, but also for their online business.

Bryan (00:16:51) - My whole career is primarily been spent in e-commerce, and there are so many brands we've come across. We're leaving hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars on the table by, frankly, ignoring e-commerce. I think it's become sort of a bad word in the past, you know, two years. Um, and I think that there's a way to do e-commerce and Amazon and online retail, right, so that it can be profitable, it can be cash flow positive, and more importantly, it can have the type of marketing funnel that attracts retail customers into your branch who are going to be activated as fans, as people who are going to be the ones who are going to write the fan mail that you can show to the buyer, that are going to be the ones who can be your, like, local community ambassadors. When you're in some of these regional retailers and really build that community. So yeah, for us, we have sort of our playbook in mind, but we always customize it to the individual brands needs and where they're at.

Josh (00:17:53) - Yeah again. Bryan Alston, co-founder and managing partner of brand Castle Growth Partners. Your website brand Castle Echo. When somebody goes at Bryan, what should they click on? What do they do?

Bryan (00:18:07) - So they can book a free consult in the upper corner and talk to myself as well as my co-founder. We would love to learn more about their business, learn more about what their goals are. It's also worth pointing out that we have a pretty extensive network of other retail experts. So there are times where, hey, like you need something very specific before we feel you're ready. Instead of sending you on your way, we're like, hey, you should talk to this person and then come back to us maybe in a few months. And, you know, that's exactly what happened with Magic Spoon. Back when I worked with them, they were going to be called something totally different. They were going to be called discos. It looks like, frankly, like you're sort of Trader Joe's. Yeah. And and we sent them away.

Bryan (00:18:52) - We were like, look, our research says that you need something a bit more colorful, maybe something a little bit more nostalgic if your customer base or people who don't eat cereal and haven't eaten cereal since they were children.

Josh (00:19:04) - Yes.

Bryan (00:19:05) - So we didn't come up with Magic Spoon, but we basically gave them, again, the prescriptive homework, I guess, if you want to call it that. And then four months later they came back to the agency I was at with what we now know of as Magic Spoon, and we were able to launch them in like, run all their marketing for the first 12 months because they avoided a lot of the mistakes that a lot of brands would have made had they not had that sort of just like expert guidance. And that's the same kind of hands on value. Add that at Bran Castle we aim to give to all of our clients.

Josh (00:19:40) - Yeah, I love it. All right. Again Bryan Alston, thank you so much for joining us. Co-Founder managing partner, brand Castle Growth Partners on the web at Grand Castle.

Josh (00:19:49) - CEO Bryan, thank you so much.

Bryan (00:19:51) - Yeah, thank you so much I appreciate it.

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