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Building Partnerships with Manufacturers, How Passe

October 10, 2007

My family and I have been doing retail outdoor furniture for over 55 years. During that time we have loved/hated/liked/abided/banned manufacturers we deal with. Over the last 10 years or so, the industry buzz words have been "building partnerships with our manufacturers" (or "retailers" if you are sitting on the greener side of the fence). So, I was surprised to read these comments from a manufacturer in the September, 2007 Hearth & Home when asked about the effect of high end catalogues on retailers:

It’s obvious that the prduct you see in the catalogs, and the way it is shown, is not what you see at the dealer base. It’s the same old problem: the dealer base is stuck back in the ’80’s. You can’t blame them for this, because they are very loyal to the old manufacturing base and they follow them around. They’ve kept buying from them, and from the good ol’ rep they’ve been buying from for years. That’s not a very a very good reason to buy.

I just don’t know where to start!

This is coming from a manufacturer who has major placement in high end catalogs; so, I guess I should take this statement with a grain of salt, or a whole box. I am sure catalogs like that are very attractive to manufacturers. However, for brick and mortar retailers, that business is offensive to us. Manufacturers allow them to show pictures of their products on their web sites along with pricing. They are allowed to ship any where in the United States they want. In fact, they break so many of the Internet rules manufacturers try to impose on brick and mortar stores, that I wonder how they can legally apply those rules to us.

Okay, that part of the discussion upsets me, but the statement regarding our loyalty to "old" manufacturers has me really chaffed. How many times have your heard manufacturers proudly tout how they partner with their retailers? Or, large retailers giving out "manufacturing partner of the year" awards to their suppliers? According to the quoted manufacturer, if we do partner with vendors, we are stuck in some "golden days" image of what the industry used to be.  Instead, it should be every man/woman for him/her self.  That means, every year manufacturers would have to start over developing a retailer base and every retailer would start over selecting products for their store regardless of how well merchandise sold the year before. Excuse me, but aren’t there manufacturers who base our early buy programs on prior year purchases? The more you increase your business from the prior year, the better the deals. If the quoted manufacturer is correct, that model of an early buy program should be trashed.

I can’t believe the quoted manufacturer (have you noticed how hard I am trying not to mention the manufacturer by name?) thinks retailers don’t have a clue about changing with the times. True, I do feel a loyalty to my reps and quality manufacturers, but I am not going to cut off my nose to spite my face if that manufacturer’s product doesn’t sell!! I’m not stuck in any decade but the present and I don’t think my retail peers are, either. However, we are walking a delicate balancing act between competing effectively and rewarding those manufacturers act as real partners when needed.

I am acutely aware of the effectiveness of high end catalogues. I actually do carry much of the same merchandise they show. I wish I could set up displays in my store which rival the photos in those catalogues. But my manufacturers aren’t providing monetary incentives when I do so. Nor are they providing me with display materials.  I don’t have the unlimited square footage it would take to create all of the vignettes shown in a high end catalog. I’ll bet if you visit the physical location of a high end catalog house, all you are going to see is a working warehouse with offices attached. If the manufacturer drops ships for them, you probably won’t even see much of a warehouse. I’ll also bet there won’t be a retail display in sight.

So here’s what I think: any manufacturer who blames retailers’ ineptness for the amount of business high end catalogues are taking from your traditional brick and mortar stores should turn the mirror on themselves. Are you helping us as much as you can? In fact, are you partnering with us or is that a pie-in-the-sky ideal that only worked in the ’80’s?

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce