When selling any CPG in traditional retail, your success is based on 3 key elements: customer building, vigilance, and timely remedial action. You must start with the understanding and respect for the retailers’ predicament: Will the expensive space they gave you, at the exclusion of others, pay off?  Or will it fail to ROI?

So, with that in mind, your territorial representatives must demonstrate that they understand this predicament. They must deliver new consumers and provide the kind of merchandising services to the retailer required to grow sales in each particular retail outlet. This includes, but is not limited to, back stock, displays, signage, correct pricing, correct coding, demos, and neighborhood outreach.

Therefore, the interview questions must uncover the candidate’s experience and success with these particular hands-on, merchandising requirements. Caution: Watch out for the candidates who offer themselves up as “Brand Ambassadors.” They set themselves up to take advantage of CPG owners and executives who underestimate the merchandising work required to stay in retail stores. They say things like, “Oh, I know so and so,” as if that’s all it takes! Here are some things to keep in mind during the interview process:

  1. Establish Territorial Knowledge
  • How long have you lived in the territory? (Listen for “life” or “over 5 years”, the longer the better.)
  • Who are the major players? (Listen for the top stores that have high volume with your category.)
  • What stores have you had products in? (Listen for all majors and even minors.)
  1. Establish Merchandising Abilities
  • Have you built a brand in the territory? (Listen for a brand launch to regularly carried products.)
  • What brands? (Listen for popular brands you recognize.)
  • Is the brand/product still in the marketplace? (Listen for excuses for its discontinuance.)
  • How did you build the brand? (Listen for demos, displays, and neighborhood outreach.)
  • What is your typical store visit procedure? (Listen for the steps to a perfect retail visit.)
  1. Establish Vigilance
  • How many A, B, and C stores do you service? (Listen for a reasonable and doable amount of stores.)
  • How often do you visit each store? (Listen for how they prioritize and their visit frequency.)
  • What problems do you run into that can hurt sales? (Listen for out of stocks, poor position, unknown product, wrong price, codes, etc.)
  • How do you know where you are having trouble? (Listen for a comparison of monthly sales in that store.)


There are many other issues you want to establish to be sure. For instance, their dependability, sobriety, personality, and references, especially from retail buyers who have had business relations with them in the past.

Talk is cheap, so we recommend a 90-day trial period where you have the opportunity to watch the candidate in action. Remember, it’s your reputation that is on the line. You must avoid the ambassador types who “buy” sales with your money at lunches, dinners, and promotions. Find the candidates that have proven their ability to deliver hands-on merchandising assistance to your retail customers.  Then, give them the opportunity to prove their capabilities with your CPG.

Who We Are

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey Barefoot Wine Founders

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.

Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.

They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) & Shelf Smarts courses to help consumer product brand builders achieve success. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.

Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular business site at www.thebarefootspirit.com.

To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact sales@thebarefootspirit.com.