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It’s not the most fun part of the business but it may be the most important. Every Fall, suppliers meet with the distributors to review the past year and get agreement on goals and plans for next year. The distributors are usually polite and let you leave feeling pretty good, but what value does that plan really have when next year comes around? Too often, the plan goes on the “shelf” (of course, business plans don’t go on the shelf anymore, they get buried in computer file labeled “plans to never look at again”) and then it is never looked at again.

To make an effective annual business plan (ABP) remember that you are somewhere in a procession of 35 suppliers all saying how great their brands are and showing way too much content. You only have their attention for about 20 minutes in the meeting so to make it count you have to view your company from the wholesaler’s perspective. Include a brief review of what went right, what went wrong last year, lessons learned and new strategies and programs for next year based on that. Get their input and listen, because they are your partners. Then make sure you get your slots on the wholesaler’s calendar. Lay out your calendar of seasonals, in detail, so they can focus on your Pumpkin Ale when it is introduced with all the others. Ask how your timing lines up with other craft seasonals. Lay out your calendar of festivals and events and your strategies for sampling and working the markets. Then summarize all you are bringing to the table.

End your ABP meeting with aggressive but achievable distribution and volume goals, and list key accounts that are most important for your brand. Get their agreement on the spot. Negotiate something you can all live with or it won’t mean anything. Don’t fall for “let me speak with my guys about these goals” because it will never happen. Once the goals are agreed in the meeting, immediately get to budgeting and their financial commitment to your company. Part of your ask is co-op spending. The wholesaler has a budget for your brand so make sure you use all of it. That budget can be the result of a negotiation or you can just take what they give you. Pricing, wholesaler co-op spending and margins are the subjects of future blog posts.

When you leave the meeting you have accomplished the first 10% of the process. The rest, like everything, is in the follow up, tracking, monitoring, correcting as you go through the year. This is where the plans die on the shelf. Don’t let that happen to you.

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