When Danielle LiVolsi was trying to get her organic multi-nut butter, NuttZo, into Whole Foods stores in Southern California, she made a batch in her San Diego kitchen, arranged it in a basket, grabbed her best friend and drove to the chain’s offices in Los Angeles. “We both had years of experience in sales so we felt pretty confident,” Ms. LiVolsi said. “We were shut down so fast, we didn’t even get past the receptionist. We just left the basket.”
She e-mailed the buyer the next morning and was told her sample could not be accepted because it had not come in a tamper-proof jar, so Ms. LiVolsi asked her manufacturer to do the smallest run possible and soon had 500 jars.
She sent a case of NuttZo back to the buyer and received an e-mail a few days later telling her they were passing on it because she had no sales force and no sales. “For most people, that would have been a no, but not in my world,” Ms. LiVolsi said. “There’s always a way in.”
From another business owner at a small-business networking group, she learned of Whole Foods’ local producer program, which encourages businesses to sell products directly to their local Whole Foods stores. Ms. LiVolsi took some NuttZo into the Whole Foods closest to her home, calling first to make sure the grocery team leader was there: “I walked in with my jars, gave him my elevator pitch and he put me on the shelf.” She then visited 17 of the 29 Whole Foods stores in Southern California, opening countless jars of NuttZo along the way for buyers to try.