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Loyalty between vendors and retailers

Be True to Your School

"... so be true to your school. Just like you would to your girl. Be true to your school. Let your colors fly." ..the Beach Boys.

Imagine the sales rep who walks into a buyer's office, or sees them at Jubilee, only to find that the buyer has dropped his product line because a new vendor offered a buy back program, a new display, and extended dating on the initial order. What is a vendor to think?

How about the account located in an area that now supports two or three similar businesses? They find that after having worked for several years to develop customers who are loyal to them and a particular brand of products, that the vendor is now selling the same line to the store down the street. What is the account to think?

It was a dark and stormy night back in April of 1967. My grandfather's store was hit by lightning; by midnight over 95% of the store was destroyed. As the store was being rebuilt, Grandpa was working with various salesmen, writing orders to restock the new building.

O.C. North was a salesman that had called on our family businesses for many years. He wrote the necessary order and took it with him as he went to the company headquarters for a sales meeting. The controller told Mr. North that the order would not be accepted as they wanted to wait and see if Grandpa's store would be fully restored. Mr. North told the controller he would no longer represent the line if the order was not shipped. The order was then shipped. What is an account to think?

The sales manager from a wholesaler came to a store asking to visit with the owner. He explained that on the next day he would be telling his sales force about a product line they would be discontinuing. Because the store owner had been friends with the sales manager, dating back to when the sales manager was first a sales representative, the store owner was given the first opportunity to write an order for the discontinued product line.

A vendor calling on a retailer, made a comment to the retailer that he had called on the store at least six times and had yet to write an order. Could he convince the retailer to change to his product line?

The retailer would make the change only if one of several conditions were to occur: hire the sales representative for the line the retailer now carried, or wait until the sales rep retired or died. Otherwise, the retailer would remain loyal to his current rep and product line.

Each of these stories have two things in common: they are all true, and each centers on the loyalty between an account and their supplier.

If you, as a show owner, home based business, manufacturer, wholesaler, buyer or sales representative, have never had an occasion where the bond between vendor and account has been put to the test, and passed the test, then - in the opinion and experiences of this writer - you are missing something as you participate in your particular part of the gift basket industry.

Does a vendor really "need" the accounts they have? After all, the vendor can usually find another account within the same trade area, can't he? Last year this writer had the opportunity of addressing a manufacturer and all of his sales representatives at their annual meeting. The president of the company told the audience the presentation would focus on the relationship between the sales representative and the retailer. His comment was, "You know we have strict credit terms. If you, as a sales representative don't think your accounts are valuable to you, just look around any town you have an account in. You know we make a point to protect territories, and I invite you to see who you would replace your current account with. There are many situations where your second choice will be a 'no choice' to our credit department. Take good care of your accounts."

I think this manufacturer understands the value of his accounts, and is taking necessary steps to assure the continuance of his business and the business of his accounts.

The reasons why an account needs a specific wholesaler or manufacturer are numerous. The first reason may be as simple as being identified as the source for a specific brand of items.

More common reasons for vendor loyalty would be having a friend in the shipping department who can get something out to you right away when you have a customer with a rush order. It could also be having a friend in the credit department when you have experienced a rough period of sales and need to ask for extended terms.

A lot of the value with a vendor comes through the sales representative. In our business, there were those occasional faxes from a sales representative who was attending their national sales meeting. The message on the fax was to detail a new line of products which were introduced at the sales meeting, and the rep - with our permission - had already placed our initial order for the new items. Usually the note explained their anticipation of a quick sell out of the initial run of production, and how our rep wanted us to be one of the first to get the new merchandise.

How about the rep who tells you about the great sell-through that an account in a nearby town is having on a particular product line? And your rep does not even represent the line; he or she just wants you to know about it so you can get your share of the action. Of course there are the occasions when the rep gets you some samples of products to use as door prizes for your open house. And the rep who is able to get you some extra co-op dollars, or is glad to be on your sales floor one afternoon to answer questions from your customers.

Do you, vendor or account, really need to have that strong connection with the other as we have suggested? Not really. But, if you would like to accomplish your goals with a lot less effort, there probably is not a quicker route to get there than with the help of the other.

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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