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Not Changing Product Lines or Reps

Selecting Products and Sales Representatives

Recently we had a visit from a salesman that has been calling on our store for the past year. We added a series of items from one of the product lines that he represents, because the fasteners produced are not available from the company that has serviced our store for years.

As would and should be expected with each visit, he has asked us to change to his fastener line. And, during one of his earlier visits, he asked to present his entire line. Before this presentation was made, we reminded him that we are a conservative business, and have made a practice of not replacing one line with an identical line unless there was an exceptional problem with the currently stocked line. We have declined his offers, but at least we are aware of what he has available.

Many salesmen, and product lines, have come and gone. Each wanting to join the list of suppliers that have their products in our store. This is the same as we would expect to happen in any hardware store. With many of the sales pitches, we have heard the usual round of incentives: more frequent or improved sales calls, buyouts of the competitor's merchandise, free displays, assistance in setting up the new merchandise, and even additional discounts on our orders for an unspecified period of time. Through all the deals and years, we have repeatedly declined most of these offers. But, for the lines that we have added to our store, it has been because of a lack of service, selection or delivery from the current supplier.

For the salesman that is making the presentation, we perceive disappointment and sometimes a lack of understanding. Yet for the salesman and the product line that we are keeping, we suspect that he is most appreciative. With either salesman, they tell us that operating as we do, is not the norm for hardware stores today.

Our decision to operate our store this way, is based on the method we have chosen to service our customers. We appreciate and admire the occasional customer who tells us they remember 1959, when three brothers opened a hardware store in St. Petersburg, the one we currently own. The customer usually goes on to tell us that they have always shopped in our store, which is in a town that, in the past seven years, has seen all of the hardware co-ops, discount stores, and warehouse stores arrive to compete for the retail hardware dollar.

We know that the success of our store is dependent upon these customers that have shown a continued loyalty to our store. And we know that this same group of customers have helped us to add new customers. Imagine our proud feeling, the day that Mr. Hartley, a charge account customer, brought a man into our store, explaining that this individual had purchased the Hartley home. Mr. Hartley wanted to introduce the new resident to his neighborhood hardware store. Shortly thereafter, the new resident received a letter from our store with four dated coupons for discount or free items, as we subscribe to a newcomer welcoming service.

It has also been our experience that our success is dependent upon our showing a similar loyalty to our vendors. An example is this salesman that has serviced the stores that we have owned since 1973. We believe that he continues to have our best interest in mind. Of the product lines that he represents, we believe he is careful in his suggestions for items that we will add, or continue to keep in our inventory. We believe that some products will be suggested because other stores in the area are selling this item, and not because a manufacturer has offered a cash spiff for any order that the salesman can get. While he is not the only salesman that assists us in this manner, we know one of the main reasons we have a number of salesmen that fit this description is this method of selecting both product lines and reps. We believe that when we change a product line, it should be after great thought, and with good reason. We have heard repeated reports of retailers that have changed product lines frequently. One is the story of a hardware retailer that has changed his line of faucet stems and related items five times. It seems that after a good sales pitch, a manufacturer buys out the competitive line and installs his line. Unfortunately, within a matter of months, another manufacturer is making the pitch, and initiating another buyout. One of the plumbing suppliers has had his line in the store twice. We can't help but think that this store's customers and employees are confused.

While we do hear these stories through the salesmen that call on us, we also receive information that assists us in selecting, or deleting, other items that we will stock or promote. We watch for information like this so that we will not advertise items that we anticipate will be heavily promoted by the discounters and warehouse stores. Unfortunately, we have experienced one product line that we have discontinued because we have found it is a labor intensive product to handle, and is constantly promoted at prices that are below our cost. To us, the efforts necessary are not worth the possible results. A salesman first tipped us to this valuable information which has saved us possible embarrassment.

Our years of experience have shown that there are many services and programs available from wholesalers, associations, and manufacturers. Some of these services have costs, and some are free, but one of our most valuable sources of consultation has been the sales representative that calls on us on a regular basis.

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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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Profits Plus Solutions, Inc.
PO Box 1577
St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
Fax: (727) 898-3179