Steps entrepreneurs should make to avoid early mistakes

Steps entrepreneurs should make to avoid early mistakes

The NEXT Accelerator Training Camp at Natural Products Expo East is rapidly approaching. This half-day workshop takes place on Wednesday, Sept. 17, from noon to 6:30, and provides young and growing manufacturing brands at Expo East an opportunity to get answers from leading industry experts to the critical questions they face every day.

After an inspiring success story from the CEO of the fastest growing beverage brand in the county, SUJA Juice, attendees will choose one of two tracks—Sales and Distribution, or Manufacturing and Operations to dig deeply into the nitty-gritty of issues like manufacturing partnerships, legal claims, supply chain logistics, financial planning, working with brokers, trade spending and more.

Bob Burke, a longtime industry mentor, leader and advisor will chair the Sales and Distribution Track. I asked Bob a few questions to highlight the issues he’ll be covering in the workshop.

Diana: What is the most important thing an entrepreneur should do before starting a business?

Burke: It’s really important to think through some basic feasibility steps that include: 

  • Is what I am planning to offer truly unique, innovative and highly differentiated, or could it possibly be viewed as a “me too” item?
  • Do I have rewarding and forgiving gross margins e.g. 40%+
  • What is my basic plan? Should I make the product myself, or buy is? Should I hire workers to make my product, or outsource my manufacturing? Should I sell my product direct to my customer or work with distributors? Finally, how long will it take for me to break even?

Diana: In your long history of consulting with a large number of young brands, what have you found to be the most common mistake new brands make?

Burke: Probably the most common mistake is not having a real understanding of the basic breakeven equation:

Your net sales, minus all variable costs, equals contribution. Your fixed costs divided by contribution equals your breakeven. Related to this would be having a realistic bottoms up sales plan that flows into a P&L that flows into a cash flow budget.

Diana: Once a brand is ON the shelf, what are some of your best strategies for getting the product OFF the shelf?


  • Understand the optimal selling price given your positioning in the category, where your immediate competition is, and what you need for a sustainable gross margin.
  • Thoughtfully and strategically think about your trade programs/promotions based on your objectives: e.g. get consumer trial, move volume, load up consumers.
  • If you are a non-perishable item, one of the best drivers of velocity is to get off-shelf displays like end caps, floor stacks, power-wings, shippers, table displays, dump bins and the like.
  • In-store demos are a great way to sell product.
  • Step up PR and social media activities to get consumers seeking out and requesting the items.


Since 1998, Bob Burke has provided assistance in bringing natural, organic and specialty products to market across most classes of trade. This includes work in strategic planning, writing sales, marketing and business plans, building distribution, broker selection and management, organizational development and compensation, strategic options, financing, branding, trade spending and assistance around mergers and acquisitions, due diligence and venture strategy groups. He is also the co-author of the Natural Products Field Manual, 6th Edition and The Sales Manager’s Handbook. Prior to consulting, Burke was with Stonyfield Farm Yogurt for 11 years as vice president, sales and corporate development. Burke was named one of the "Top 25 Business Builders of the Natural Products Industry for the last 25 years” by Natural Foods Merchandiser magazine.

If you’d like to attend this workshop, please visit to register.


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