Dealing with big business in Europe is tricky as (nearly) all see themselves as the centre of the world. The way they do business is therefore the way they have always done it. They usually pay little attention to how business is usually done around the world. So every big business has its own culture.
In some countries, the biggest retailers hide the name and contact details of their key buyers. It has personally taken a shorter time for me to get in touch with someone in the US and have my products on their shelves than get an answer from a business in Europe.
But change is slowly seeping in and challenging existing models. Europe can be creative and is finally starting to understand that the the bricks and mortar model is under threat. However, the answer to these challenges are very idiosyncratic. I believe that Carrefour has sold the walls of its outlets…
So why is this information relevant to you and how can you leverage it?
Despite what British people think, Europe is a collection of countries that behave quite differently from one another. Focus on one at a time.
Bricks and Mortar models, especially in France, now mostly operate through fulfilment centre which require you to register your product with them before doing anything else. This in itself can be an exhaustive process. It takes a long term strategy and funding to access these fulfilment centres. Once in, there is no guarantee that the big shops you are targeting will distribute your stock. You can have relatively quick access to them but only if you can provide regional locally sourced products and can run regular demonstrations. This rules most foreign businesses out… Which is the whole idea really.
Online platforms often operate as an extension to a traditional Bricks and Mortar shop. These often represent a strategic priority for traditional outlets so submitting your products there makes sense. The bigger outfits operate a market place which are easier to join and can often represent a step towards bigger things.
Think big: You have a big budget, have a very wide offering and can cope with no immediate returns. Target the big retailers and their distribution system. Build market share over time.
Think small: If you need quick returns, contact blended platforms (B&M & online)
Whatever you do: get local intelligence but do not employ anyone on the continent. This could well sink your small business.