Be prepared

Recently I have been visiting professionals in Texas, looking for good ideas to bring back to our market. These meetings have reinforced the belief that, for the smaller retailer, a supplier’s service and support, often delivered through a good sales representative, is as important as product quality, if not more so.

If the difference between product quality from leading suppliers is marginal then it makes sense that the key ‘difference’ is the profit that the pro can make, the level of inventory risk they need to take, and the support they receive from the supplier in trying to make profit and manage inventory. For almost all the pros I visited, the choice of what product goes into the shops is based on the relationship and service that the pro thinks, believes or knows they will get from their sales rep and the supplier’s customer-service division.

This is a double-edged sword. Last month I suggested that any sales rep not committed to your sell-through should not be welcome in your store. By the same token, the pro needs approach every contact with the rep very professionally.

If you want the rep to be involved, preparation is required. When you sit down with the rep you should be looking at business performance for the relevant product lines, comparing that performance to your targets and your whole shop performance. You should already have identified products that are performing below expectation and proving to be a threat to your performance. You should also have alerts from great sales performances, so you can order replenishment in good time.

These are the basics. If you want reps to be committed to your business, don’t fatten them up with coffee and bacon rolls before sending them on their way after a chat about the football. Invest in the relationship by setting an agenda, have the facts and your requirements at hand, and your own ideas of how business can be improved.