A true retail partner will offer initiatives and programs to help you SELL!
The last quarter of the 20th century brought lots of innovation to the home furnishings industry. The Pit Group, injection molded accent panels, and miracle Herculon fabrics were all brought to market. But, by far, the product with the biggest payoff was Fabric Protection, an add-on sale item.
Fabric Protection was a spray-on liquid retailers applied to anything upholstered. It came with the promise of a lifetime free of stains. It took about a pint of this mystery juice to cover a three-piece suite. It was truly liquid gold, with a cost of under $5 and a retail price approaching $100. I was always able to justify the price to my shoppers by telling them “It’s not what IT IS, it’s what IT DOES.”
If you are fortunate enough to be at the High Point Market this month, then you ARE the shopper. You can browse through seemingly unending buildings and showroom spaces packed with the Latest and Greatest, designed to stoke your shopper’s desires and to tilt your balance sheet towards the positive. After a full day of seeing products and more products, you may come to the conclusion that EVERYBODY has great products and everybody has great prices! That’s what makes it hard to choose the winners. Making great products, however, is only a portion of what your suppliers need to do. It’s not only WHO they are, but WHAT they will do to help you be successful.
In short, don’t only shop for products, shop for programs! Your most successful line-ups will come from suppliers who understand that anyone can load up your warehouse with merchandise. A true retail partner will offer initiatives and programs to help you SELL! Some quick research and inquiries can help you determine who wants to be your partner.
Check Out Their Customer Facing Website
Shopping starts on the phone, tablet, and laptop these days. A supplier who is a true retail partner will have a state of the art and easy to navigate website with useful information about their products and where to buy them. Look for content with a bias towards video which is better than articles. Enter products into the Search Tab; if the information supplied is not related, there may be issues with the site. Check out the "Where to Buy" tab and you’ll get a quick read on what kind of stores carry their products. Then ask yourself, are their shoppers my shoppers?
It’s also worthwhile to check out prospective suppliers' customer reviews. Best in Class companies strive to recruit positive reviews, be sure to look for that 80/20 balance. Negative reviews are bound to happen, look for speedy responses offering reasonable resolution.
Retail Training Programs
Whether your sales team consists of Mama and Papa, or you have 110 RSAs, you need to be sure your staff knows how to sell the products. That includes Product Knowledge (what it is) and People Knowledge (what it does). Your next suppliers should offer online training, printed or downloadable, or again, video is preferred. Nothing beats face to face training; you should set a schedule for factory rep in-store visits BEFORE you create a purchase order.
Although buyer’s brand choice preferences are changing, your major suppliers should have some plan to promote their brands. Whether they promote online, on TV, or in shelter magazines, it’s their BRAND and they need to create desire for it. Perhaps you are considering Upstart Brands. They also need to provide advertising assets and funds to help you build their brands and yours. Store signage is an important part of promoting the brand. So, look to your suppliers for banners, signs, and outdoor advertising items.
Everyone Makes Mistakes
It’s part of our Retail World! Chances are that your shopper will measure wrong, your RSA will order wrong, the truck line will pack it wrong, or a component part manufacturer will build it wrong. Your new supplier should be more focused on making things right rather than seeking and placing blame. No manufacturer (or retailer) can continually fix errors, but some reasonable concessions should be available. Keep in mind that a written policy will be more durable than promises made to get the order.
Distribution And Shipping
Sometimes the offer of "Exclusive Distribution" reminds me of products sold on TV. When they say, "Not Available in Stores" it tells me no one else wanted to carry it! In today’s click and buy retail environment EVERY store in your county, state, and country is in your neighborhood. Your shoppers can order any product from around the world, so don’t worry about the store down the street. Think of distribution as if you owned a convenience store. You would want to have Coke, Pepsi, and Bud Light, even if ten stores in a 2 mile radius have the same products. The reason is simple: Shoppers like to buy them, and those companies promote sales! Your store needs name brands to survive and compete, and name brands will have wide distribution.
In my retail selling days, reps would often ask me to name the best furniture brand on the sales floor. My answer was always the same. "It's the factory that ships!” Selling your new brand is only 50% of the battle; the other half is getting it delivered on time. Chances are good that your next shopper can’t wait the full 60 seconds for their Hot Pocket to get nuked in the Radar Range! You can’t expect them to wait 8-12 weeks for a dining room or bedroom suite!
Look for two hard commitments from your prospective supplier. First, verify how long after market will it take to get their merchandise in their warehouse and into your store. Next, once the goods are in your store, what is the normal shipping time expectation. Only you know your shopper’s expectations, but when it comes to competition, SPEED is the tie-breaker.
Custom Upholstery normally means some sort of wait period. You can get an “average” order time from your supplier, but the more important information is their stock situation on fabrics. Check to see if they are normally 75% or higher in-stock for their covers.
Have Fun In High Point
Have fun in High Point. It’s not often you get to stay in a $300 a night hotel room, even if it’s the Holiday Inn! Shop until you drop and use the opportunity to change up your merchandise mix. But know this... changing a line is costly in money (blowing out old merchandise and dealing with odds and ends) and time (empty vignettes, assembling samples). You are not just choosing goods for sale, you are also choosing a selling and business partner that can be part of your operation for a long time, and should be willing to help you stay profitable. Love their merchandise first and then be sure you like their programs.