Retail Ready Lab

As part of the Retail Ready Lab, vendors have prominent, temporary displays of their products for customers to purchase. 

WILLY STREET CO-OP

Two years after creating her own line of all-natural skin care products, Cress Spring Body Care owner Patricia Nicholes was ready for retail, and Willy Street Co-op is helping her get there.

Nicholes is part of the first Retail Ready Lab at Willy Street Co-op. The program partners with small businesses to guide them over the course of a month as they work to get their products on retail shelves by holding one-on-one meetings, displaying their products in its stores and setting up live vendor demonstrations.

Through the Retail Ready Lab, vendors like Nicholes have the opportunity to speak not just to co-op staff but also to potential customers who can provide honest, unbiased feedback that the vendors’ family and friends may be wary to give.

Co-op spokesman Brendon Smith said staff gather input from customers either in-person, through paper submissions or from an online form. Those reviews are given to the Retail Ready Lab participants to help them tailor their products and brands.

For about a year and a half, Nicholes, of Blue Mounds, has sold her creams on cressspringbodycare.com. She uses only organic ingredients with no preservatives, emulsifiers or other ingredients that she says do more harm to sensitive skin than good. These combinations of ingredients came from a year’s worth of research after a lifetime of dry, itchy skin for Nicholes.

“I had really bad skin my whole life,” she said, “so I was just trying to solve my own problem.”

So far, Nicholes has done three live demonstrations — one at each of the co-op’s locations. This is where she is able to show off the quality of her products, which include body and face creams as well as lip balms.

“After I did some demos, people were very interested and started buying my products,” Nicholes said.

Prior to joining the Retail Ready Lab, Nicholes said she had limited labeling on her products — just a small tab of printed card stock on the lid— but now she has full labels that wrap around her products.

Professional advice and customer feedback is not the only opportunity for the Retail Ready Lab participants. Smith said that if co-op customers give enough positive feedback and if the staff finds that the product is fully ready for commercial sale, the vendor’s products may be offered a permanent spot on co-op shelves.

September won’t be the only month for the Retail Ready Lab, Smith said. The co-op plans to continue the program with one to three vendors each month.

Willy Street Co-op declined to name its next Retail Ready Lab participants, but Smith said the co-op will be taking applications from local vendors with very limited or no distribution for upcoming months.

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Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.