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Small companies pound pavement to get big deals

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 7:15 am

NEW YORK – When a small business can boast having big clients like Wal-Mart and Procter & Gamble, its peers often want to know how it got them.

The truth is there's no magic that gets a small business a deal with big companies. It takes good old-fashioned pavement pounding.

The makers of Arctic Zero started small, selling their no-fat, ice cream-like frozen dessert to natural food stores and independent grocers in Southern California. But they wanted to get in national chains. It took a year and a lot of traveling to get into Whole Foods. It took four years to get on Wal-Mart's shelves.

“It was just a lot of hustling, a lot of hard work, pitching, going in and talking,” CEO Amit Pandhi says.

Many small business owners dream of selling to big companies. But the competition is fierce. Rivals can include entrenched national players or fast-growing upstarts. Corporate buying departments often aren't interested in a product without a successful track record. To get in, small businesses have to persuade big companies to give them a chance.

To get its pints into Whole Foods, Arctic Zero visited many individual stores. Although big retail chains buy nationally or regionally, sometimes local store managers can buy products on their own.

“We literally had to go store by store, region by region,” says CEO Pandhi, whose company is based in San Diego. Finally, in about a year, Arctic Zero made it to a Whole Foods' freezer case.

Pandhi's pitch includes bringing samples and showing sales figures. Usually, it takes a few conversations before a manager says yes.

While they courted Whole Foods, Arctic Zero also pitched Wal-Mart and grocery chain Kroger. In 2011, Kroger not only said yes, it decided to immediately stock all its 2,200 stores. Wal-Mart followed, putting the frozen dessert in 2,300 stores and expanding to 2,500, Pandhi says.