Ben Weiss, founder of Bai Brands, knows a thing or two about building a successful company in tough times.
During the Great Recession in 2009, Weiss started Bai out of his New Jersey basement. At the time, Weiss, who worked for Godiva, had the idea of using coffee fruit, a typically discarded part of the coffee bean, to create an antioxidant beverage line. Business boomed, and in 2016, Dr Pepper Snapple Group acquired Bai for $1.7 billion.
Today, if Weiss were to start a side hustle to make extra money, he would tap into a need that he discovered while launching Bai: freelance merchandising, as he calls it.
"[I'd] offer to go into stores on behalf of brands and, in exchange for cash or store credit, make sure that products are fully stocked and their displays look clean and organized on a shelf or in a cooler," Weiss tells CNBC Make It.
Freelance merchandisers, or a visual merchandisers, are hired by brands to create store displays and manage how products are presented, as feedback on product placement can make a substantial difference on overall sales, says Ali Besharat, an associate professor of marketing at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver and co-director at its Consumer Insights and Business Innovation Center.
"Brands hire freelancers to go and check out how consumers interact with product – what they see and how much time they spend exploring different options in the store," he says. "I've seen it quite a lot, especially [with] brands that have no control over the shelf placement of the product."
According to ZipRecruiter, freelance visual merchandisers are paid $22 an hour on average.
The side hustle would be "kind of a twist on the mystery shopper concept," Weiss says, referring to those hired by brands to enter stores, make a purchase and report back on the experience. Mystery shoppers for brands help determine where products should sit in store and how to better the customer experience, Besharat says. Often, a mystery shopper is reimbursed, able to keep the purchase and paid $20 an hour on average, according to ZipRecruiter.
"Because of Covid, consumer brands have fewer employees going into stores now," says Weiss, who launched organic alcohol brand Crook & Marker in 2018 and published the book, "Basementality: How This Entrepreneur Drove His Fight Against Big Sugar and Rose from the Basement to a $1.7 Billion Brand," in September. So "there's a great opportunity for shoppers, especially if you're already making regular trips to the supermarket to shop for your family."
To start, Weiss recommends working with smaller and local brands, as it may be easier to reach them and find opportunities. "With each trip, send before-and-after pictures to show the impact of your work," he says. "Then work your way up to larger brands."
Thinking big, Weiss says one could "build an app" surrounding this, where others can find brands that will hire, like "the Uber of freelance merchandising," he says.
"For a consumer, this concept is a win because you're getting extra income while making your regular trips to the store. And there's no overhead other than your time," he says. "Brands and stores win, too, because they're getting better displays that will drive more sales, without having to hire new employees or send current employees into more stores."
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