In this article, Therese Oertenblad from the Small Business Collaborative talks about what you can do to be a good supplier and build a long-standing relationship with a retailer.
A good relationship takes work, from both sides, it’s not just you as a supplier that needs to make an effort but there are a few things you can do to help shape that relationship with a retail buyer and hopefully build a long-standing loyal relationship.
I really love speaking to buyers and shop owners about how they like to work, how I as a supplier can help them grow their business and make it easier for them and I think it’s an important step in trying to bridge the gap between buyer and seller. It’s something I discuss a lot and why I decided to launch a podcast, it’s called Let’s Talk Shop and here are some of the things I’ve learned throughout the years and whilst interviewing my podcast guests.
As a small business owner, you might not be able to offer long payment terms but it’s likely that you can be flexible and help in other ways. If you can’t offer 30 days credit, perhaps you can offer 7 days or 14 days, every little help. Particularly in autumn when the shops need to be filled with stock in anticipation of Christmas but when cash flow is a challenge.
If you’re approaching a small independent, perhaps you can offer smaller pack sizes, a lower minimum order or maybe a quicker turn-around if they have a store event on.
Perhaps you can offer to send out just a few things directly to a customer of theirs if they sold out and their customer needs it urgently.
If you use Shopify there is a wholesale module that you can use to make your website shoppable for a wholesale customer. Independent shop owners are often very busy and if you have an online order function you make it very easy for them to order whenever they have a moment to spare. If they can log in and add something when they sell out and keep it in their basket as a reminder then they won’t forget to re-order either and it gives you a chance to follow up on abandoned baskets.
If this is not an option for you because of the way your online shop works and the costs involved then make sure that you still make it as simple as possible. Have clear product names and short product codes, provide an editable order-form that is easy to fill in, an excel file or google sheets one is perfect.
Of course, not everyone will use your form, some might phone you or just list the products they would like to order in an email but I still like to keep an order form to hand for those who wish to use it.
This is a big one and all the things mentioned in this post comes back to customer service.
Henri Davis, who’s a retail consultant and former buyer said that a good supplier is one that doesn’t give her any problems and therefore they won’t hear that often from her and I think this is how a lot of buyers feel, regardless of whether they are independent boutique owners or large supermarket buyers.
Make it clear what your lead-times are, deliver on time, make sure your products are well packed and checked before you send the orders out and always respond to emails in a timely manner, even when you don’t have an answer right away at least acknowledge it with a reply and an estimated time-line.
Be approachable and easy to get a hold of and be personal but respect that this is a business relationship first, friendship may come later as an added bonus.
Keep up to date with what the retailer is up to, check-in to see how they are doing, how your product range is selling and that their latest delivery arrived okay.
Don’t just take the order and wait for the next one, remember that a relationship takes work so keep in touch.
A good way is to make sure you send regular newsletters, once a month is a good start. Talk about what products are doing well at the moment, encourage stockists to post and tag you over on social media so you can give them a shout-out or to send you pictures of their store displays. Inform them about any new products or if anything is out of stock a when it’s likely to be back in stock and include an offer every now and then.
Launching new products regularly is key, it shows that you are an innovating brand that is moving forward. I like to group product launches around two key times each year, Jan/Feb and September. This is as these co-insides with the bigger trade-shows that buyers are likely to attend (read my checklist for trade shows here)
Even if you’re not quite ready in January you can tell your buyers about upcoming launches for the spring with clear dates and maybe get some forward orders for them which will help you forecast your sales.
Start to talk about products you’re launching in September in July or even earlier if you sell to larger buyers and have them ready to ship in September as lots of stores will shift their windows and display to autumn/Christmas then.
When selling to shops you will feel rejected, ignored and unappreciated sometimes. If you’re worried about the rejection and want some tips you can read a bit more about it over on my blog. The most important and the best advice I can give you is to be proactive and consistent, don’t give up and treat potential buyers how you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes.
For even more tips and advice tune in to Therese weekly podcast Let’s Talk Shop. If you would like some more personal help get in touch with Therese to book a free discovery call or book a power-hour which is currently available as a summer special. This will be perfect if you are preparing for a trade-show, big meeting or if you are not getting the result you want.
After a decade in the home and gift industry, Therese founded the Small Business Collaborative to help small creative businesses navigate their journey to wholesale. Therese has sold a vast range of products to both independent shops and large high street retailers.
Seeing your products in a retail store might seem like a faraway goal, Therese will guide you and share her knowledge to give you the tools and confidence you need to reach your destination.