Private Labeling : What It Is, & How to Incorporate It Into Your Business


I was having breakfast at a local restaurant the other day when I noticed on the table there was a bottle of hot sauce with the restaurant's name on it. I was impressed because I knew this was no chain - it is just a small independent restaurant who was taking advantage of private labeling. I was even more impressed when I recognized the company on the label and realized that we had actually printed these labels for one of our customers who specialize in private labeling.

What is Private Labeling?

First, let's be clear about what I mean by Private Labeling. According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, private label products or services are typically those manufactured or provided by one company for offer under another company's brand. So this covers everything from Wal-Mart brand products to the small restaurant putting their label on someone else's hot sauce.

It is amazing the number of businesses now that are engaged in some form of private labeling. Restaurants, hotels, spas, hair salons, even car dealers are all putting their own brands on products such as hot sauce, lotions, shampoos, coffee, lip balm, bottled water and wine. Many corporations want to put their own logos on products that they give away to reinforce their brands. The corporate gift market is particularly busy around Christmas. There are also many small businesses that want to appear more professional by having their own brands of products to sell - coffee and bottled water are especially popular here.

Getting Started

So how do you get started in private labels? The easiest way is to just start selling to other local companies. If you sell coffee then start with the local cafés and donut shops - many companies are happy to support other local companies, particularly if they can get their own brand name on the products. Obviously, your existing customer base would also be a good place to start.

Once you have a few private label customers you can then start a formal "Private Label Program" giving prospects examples of what other companies have done. One important point to note is be sure to make it as easy as possible for your customers. You should offer to do all the work for them including the labeling, so they will just receive the finished product. You may end up having lower margins on your private label products, but you can make up for that with increased volume.

Private Label Resources

You don't have to do it alone in your private label venture; there are plenty of resources out there to help you. There are two main publications that you can read:

  • Private Label Magazine
  • Private Label Buyer

There is also a national organization - the Private Label Manufacturers Association that puts on a big trade show every year just for the private label industry. I would also expect your own industry trade association will be a useful resource for you, they may even have some information on private labeling.

A simple search request for "private label" on Google brings up over 10,000,000 pages. Add your industry to that search and you will have a wealth of information more specific to your needs. For instance, the search "private label coffee" brings up over 13,000 pages. You should do this to see what your competitors are doing in your industry, which actually could give you many ideas. While you are online you should also look for blogs and news articles within your industry - there is a lot being written about private labeling.

Here at Lightning Labels, we will be happy to help you with the label part of your private label program. We see dozens of designs every day, so we can help with the design of your labels as well as the printing. The big advantage for you, as a Lightning Labels customer, is that you can offer small quantities to your private label customers and then "gang run" many jobs together to get a better price for your labels. You can even add your own brand labels to these jobs, so your own per-unit label costs will be reduced.

Reaching the Next Level

If you continue to do all the production work yourself there is obviously a limit to how large your private label business can be. If you want to reach the next level you will need to hire the services of what is known as a Contract Packager. Basically, these are companies that take your product and packaging and put it all together for you and then ship it to your customers. They can even mix your ingredients for you to create your end product. You need to be at a reasonably high volume for this to be worthwhile, but the beauty of outsourcing your production work is that it scales very easily - and it leaves you time to focus more on bringing in business.

The Contract Packaging Association is the trade group for contract packagers and their web site has a wealth of information. You can read about the criteria you should use when choosing a contract packager. They can even help you find a contract packager in your area with the capabilities that you need.

Once you have a relationship with a contract packaging company then you can really begin to scale your business. All the large supermarkets and drug retailers are increasing the number of products that they sell under their own label. Store brand products now account for 25% of sales at US supermarkets and 40% of sales at Wal-Mart. Now, I realize it is going to be difficult to get your products in to Wal-Mart or any of the big national chains, but there are plenty of smaller regional supermarkets and drug store chains where you will have a better chance.

The Potential

Here at Lightning Labels, we have seen it many times. A customer will start out small ordering their own brand of product. Then they will start private labeling with a few of their key customers. The next thing you know they are sending us dozens of different labels for a large number of customers as they expand their private label business.

I know it may be just a dream for many of you to have your products as the store brand at a national chain, but if you don't start out down the private label road you may never know the potential for your product. If you are completely focused on selling your products under your own brand at wholesale or in a retail store you may be missing out on a huge growth opportunity. The private label trend shows no signs of slowing down - you could very well find that the sky is the limit.