How To Build Your Brand, One Conversation At A Time – with Ryan Rogers

An interview with Ryan Rogers, owner of Retail Optics

This week, I’m featuring my interview with Ryan Rogers, owner of Retail Optics – a consulting business focused on new and emerging brands. With over 20 years of experience, Ryan will help you build your brand through a buyer lens and navigate the complex world of retail.

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Ryan Rogers was one of the first people I met when I came to work at Target’s corporate offices in Minneapolis in 2008.

I’ll always remember one of the first pieces of advice he gave me when we met: “Say ‘yes’ to everything – go to every meeting, every event, and strike up a conversation. You never know where it might lead.”

I would describe Ryan’s vibe as open (he’s someone who is comfortable getting to know anyone), relaxed (he’s unlikely to be stressed when solving problems), and curious (he’ll calmly pepper you with questions about any subject over a beer – about your work, your hobbies, or your philosophy of life).

Most importantly, he’s just a helpful guy. He finds joy in helping others be successful. And, right now, he’s investing his time and energy into helping new and emerging brands navigate the complexities of retail.

How To Build Your Brand, One Conversation At A Time – with Ryan Rogers | Small Business Interview | 321 Liftoff

New to retail? Here are some key terms you might want to know:

  • Retailer – a business that buys goods in large quantities and then sells them to consumers for a profit, e.g. Target, Walmart, etc. 
  • Brick-and-mortar – a physical retail store; as opposed to a fully virtual consumer-facing experience like a website or Etsy. 
  • Buyer – a critical job in retail; the Buyer chooses which items make it to the store shelf.
  • Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) – for purposes of this article, think food in packages, e.g. Clif Bar, Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop popcorn, etc.


Now, there are unique challenges at every stage of a business’ life. 

At first, when a brand is new, the challenges tend to be existential: Who are we? Why are we here? What does success look like?

As brands grow, they focus on what’s next: What else can we do? What scale can we really achieve? What trade-offs will we have to make? 

And, when a brand considers working with a retailer, there’s a lot to think about: Are we ready for this? What makes us unique vs. the other items on the shelf? How do we succeed in an already crowded space? How do we pitch our brand effectively? 

Fortunately, Ryan Rogers has direct experience with all of these questions and more. 

What inspired you to go out on your own?

“I spent 18 years at Target and basically my entire career there. I worked a lot with entrepreneurs and small brands trying to get into Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) – it’s growing quickly. So, I saw an opportunity to continue to work in food and in emerging brands – it’s a part of the business I really, really like. Now, I help small and emerging brands navigate retail – in and out of food, but mostly food. And, a lot of my business is helping these brands interface with Target, given my background.”

Ryan is doing what a lot of solopreneurs and consultants do when they get started — they take their history and experience and aim it, which forms the foundation of their business. 

That same choice is available to you as you build your brand. 

The expertise you’ve built up over time belongs to you. You cultivated it, nurtured it, and put in the effort to make it grow. It’s yours. So, you get to choose how you deploy that expertise. 

What is it about the emerging brands space that’s intriguing to you?

“Well, there’s a lot to do and there’s a lot of mistakes that can be made. At that point in their growth cycle, everybody needs help. Years down the road, as they grow, there’s teams of people helping with things like sales and operations. But, when they’re emerging, there’s only a couple of people that are really involved. So, that’s where I come in – they need a lot of help and they need a lot of guidance. And, on the Target side of things, it’s just giving brands and entrepreneurs that expertise, giving them someone who really knows that side of the business. Most brands have Target high on their list when they’re going into brick and mortar retail. And, having someone to help navigate that is really valuable.”

How To Build Your Brand, One Conversation At A Time – with Ryan Rogers | Small Business Interview | 321 Liftoff

What kinds of complexities do you help these brands and entrepreneurs deal with? 

“I worked with a brand trying to get into Target, for example, helping them understand who the buyer is and how that buyer operates. I also helped them build their pitch deck, frame up their submission for a review, and piece together all the little things that a brand would do to be prepared for a conversation with Target. It’s an assist – kind of doing it with training wheels on.”

And, that’s just from a working-with-Target perspective. Ryan also provides problem solving support when people are in a pinch…

“I helped a brand literally put stickers on their packaging because they had some pieces coming late. It’s like ‘hey, we’re bootstrapping it here, we literally just need someone to come in and physically help us.’”

…and he helps brands think longer-term about where they want to go…

“Another client was looking to add a bunch of brick-and-mortar in 2023. Great, which parts of brick and mortar? Regional? Natural? Whole Foods? What’s the strategy to attack those kinds of things? I’ve also helped fix business fundamentals – it’s like, ‘hey, we need help with our supply chain,’ or ‘we need to work on an innovation pipeline,’ or ‘we need someone to manufacture our product for us, can you help?’ My goal is to help a brand with really anything that they need. So, it can be really strategic in nature all the way down to just physical help.” 

There are so many things to juggle – and, with Ryan’s help, they don’t drop the ball. 

How To Build Your Brand, One Conversation At A Time – with Ryan Rogers | Small Business Interview | 321 Liftoff


It’s not easy to get your brand into a large retail chain, but the investment can be worth the payoff, especially if the brand resonates with that retailer’s core consumers – it can be a huge unlock for growth. 

When a brand wants to get their product into a retailer, like Target, what does that look like? Who’s involved? 

“Fundamentally it’s a transaction. You want them to sell your product on their shelves. So, you’re going to have to pitch your product to someone – and that is, typically, a Buyer. And, especially at larger retailers, you’re going to need someone, like me, who knows the Buyer and can work directly with the Buyer or you’ll need a Rep Group – a company that has specialized salespeople that are hyper-focused on one or two retailers.”

“If you’re pitching to the mom-and-pop grocery store down the street, it might just be simply walking in and talking to the store manager and asking them if you can put your product on the shelf and sell it to them. But, Target, Kroger, Walmart – these companies have their own ecosystem. So, my role is helping new and emerging brands navigate these waters.” 

Corporations are big and complicated machines. They are not perfect, but there is a process. So, it helps to have someone who, like Ryan, knows their way around. 

Of course, there’s a lesson here. 

There are people everywhere with more expertise than you about something. You can’t be expected to know everything. Nor, can you expect to carry the load by yourself for too long. It is, therefore, good to ask for help as you build your brand – to delegate. It can help you advance your goals more quickly. After all, many hands make light work. 

“I’ve been involved in a lot of product pitches in my time as a Buyer. So, I know what it needs to look like to sell to those retailers – really to any retailer.”

How To Build Your Brand, One Conversation At A Time – with Ryan Rogers | Small Business Interview | 321 Liftoff


Now, I have a strong preference for introversion, which is why I tend to write about things like stretching your comfort zone – I’m learning too. 

Because of that, I’ve always been impressed with Ryan’s casual approach to talking with other people – it’s so genuine and casual. It’s as if he and anyone he meets had been old friends. 

So, I had to ask: 

You’ve always been comfortable talking to new people, how has that influenced the way you manage your business? 

“Yeah, I would say it’s always been a strength. Some of the best advice I got early on was to meet people where they are – so, I go to trade shows. That’s where I’m going to meet people, make conversation, and make some headway. It’s more than just passive conversation. If someone mentions someone or something that might be helpful or interesting, it’s pushing them, like ‘yeah, I actually want to meet that person’ and things like that.”

It’s not about pressing people with the third-degree or spamming them with a thousand LinkedIn messages. It’s being present in a conversation and noticing when a door might be cracked open, which requires being curious and asking thoughtful follow up questions. One person, one conversation at a time. 

“It kind of builds upon itself. Casual conversations are great and people are usually open to that, but you’ve got to understand when to lean in. I find it really fun and entertaining, so it comes natural to me. It’s really starting at a more person-to-person level and building from there.”

This is a great example of soaring with your strengths as you build your brand. Again, Ryan is a master of the casual chat, so he’s not trying to be stuffy or robotic with a sales pitch – he’s just making conversation. 

“It’s just a part of my personality. I’m a little more extroverted and I like that interaction, so I think it’s been easy to embrace that because it just brings me joy – in addition to it just being a core tenant of how to build a client base.”

How To Build Your Brand, One Conversation At A Time – with Ryan Rogers | Small Business Interview | 321 Liftoff


Like every small business owner, Ryan’s business is a work in progress. No one has all of the answers, so it’s useful to learn from each other. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business? 

“When you’re going out on your own, with what you think is an interesting idea for a long term business strategy, it might not lead to immediate success. It’s almost always a slow burn. It takes a while for people to find the product and buy it. You’re not going to immediately have clients or customers. It can take time. And, that’s okay.”

Not to say it doesn’t happen – good for those people when it does. But, for the vast majority of us, yeah, it’s a slow burn. 

You have to let go of the pressure you put on yourself to have overnight success. When you do, you’ll see that the time it takes to build your brand is a gift – in learning your way forward you have an opportunity to build resilience, among other critical skills. 

What have you personally learned about thinking iteratively and running experiments to move your business forward? 

“When I first started, I wanted a broader focus with a little bit of supporting brands as they interface with Target. Right now, it’s a lot of Target and a little bit of this broad stuff and that’s okay. That’s good. It’s where I’ve seen a lot of success, I know it, I’m comfortable there. So, leaning into your strengths, especially early on, as a way to get things moving – that’s okay. You need to learn by testing, trying, and shooting shots.”

“I had a quieter summer, so I said, ‘okay, well, I’m going to sign up for a bunch of trade shows in the fall to make sure that I’m going out there.’ And, then as soon as you start going to them, stuff happens and you have good conversations, and that leads to all these different things. So, you have to adapt to alleviate some of those feelings of anxiety – ‘Is this going to happen? Is this going to work?’ If it’s been quiet for a couple of weeks, okay, go in and figure something out to get moving again.”

You can start with a vision of what you want your business to look like, but know that it might not look that way in the beginning. You may need to build your brand and business over time. 

“I’d say meet people where they’re at. Don’t be afraid. Pretty much anybody is willing to have a conversation, no matter who they are. It doesn’t take long to build out a rolodex.” 


You can learn more about Ryan’s work at or find him on LinkedIn

If you’re a new or small business in the food space, email Ryan at to strike up a conversation and build your brand through a Buyer lens. 

I’d like to thank Ryan for joining me for this conversation. 


Starting and growing a business is not a straight line.

It can feel messy – it zigs and zags, it starts and stops. It can feel frustrating even for the most seasoned business owners. And, that’s ok.

It’s also an exciting challenge. It’s going to stretch you. You’re going to learn a lot – not just about business, but about yourself.

And, that’s why it’s worth it.

Build Your Brand, One Conversation At A Time – an interview with Ryan Rogers

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