Nobody knows his or her identity, but the Secret Retailer has been coaxed out of the shadows this month to challenge those pesky non-communicating suppliers.

SECRET RETAILER: Hello? Is anybody there?

Let’s play a game.

We’re all going to pretend we have a toy shop, so we’ll shut the door and not talk to any customers who choose to push it open.

We’ll pay them no attention once they are in, and if they buy anything, that’ll be their own choice.

It’s up to them if they want to come back but if they do, they are certainly not getting any help choosing from us.
Sound familiar? No? That’s not me, I hear retailers cry.

OK, let’s put it into a different context. Suppliers are the shopkeepers who don’t communicate; retailers are the customers who get no help.

How many suppliers really know their retailers? I mean those that provide advice, support, information and contact.

I’ve been in the toy industry for over 10 years now and I’ve seen some changes.

An obvious one is the dramatic reduction in the number of sales reps. It’s a cost cutting measure that probably felt like a no-brainer to the moneymaking suppliers.

Let me tell you how it is from an independent retailer’s perspective.

Scenario one: Dave from supplier X calls. He’s in the area next Wednesday and would love to come and see us. We keep a space free, talk through the sales, look at the new products and Dave, with his years of industry knowledge, advises us on what will sell in our particular shop. We buy far more than we would have, but it sells. Dave was right.

Result: Supplier wins, retailer wins and the customer is happy.

Scenario two: The agent for supplier Y calls. He makes an appointment, shows us the range and we choose what we like.

Retailer: “What do you think of the toys that we’ve chosen?”
Agent: “It’s up to you, it’s your money.”

OK, it’s not ideal, but at least we’ve had contact and it has prompted us to buy from that supplier.

Result: It’s okay for both the supplier and for the retailer. The customer might buy, or might go elsewhere.

Scenario three: No contact from supplier, the retailer is busy keeping its head above water, no order is placed until stock has run out and we’re not sure when that is.

Result: The supplier loses, the retailer loses and the customer? I doubt we’ll ever have the chance to find out.

So suppliers, you have measured the money you have saved by culling sales reps.

Can you measure the orders that haven’t taken place, the stock that has never been tried, the sales that haven’t happened and the number of retailers out there that just haven’t noticed they have no stock on their shelves for many of your lines?

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