Talking shop: Slow moving stock

This month, we talked to retailers about shared risk and the support they get from suppliers with slow-moving products and whether they get enough support to help move stock through and enable them to be confident to take a risk on new concepts?
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“I feel awkward”

We have a different stance from many retailers on this issue as we are a collectable retailer, so many of our products don’t move as quickly as in other shops. If lines are moving really quickly, we sometimes even keep them back for a few years in order to increase the collectible factor.

In some instances if lines aren’t selling, we contact suppliers and usually, they will give us free stock, so that we can reduce the price. They tend to see it only from a monetary perspective. There has never been an instance where they would take back stock.

I feel awkward contacting toy suppliers if something isn’t selling through very well, we have only ever approached a couple. Instead we try to look for alternatives to sell the product, we may try putting the product on the internet if it isn’t selling through, for example.

I feel if a period of time has elapsed, it is difficult to approach these companies, as when you place the order, the companies don’t tell you what your options are if the product doesn’t sell. I would certainly be more forward in ordering if they said they would be happy to take product back or help you if it wasn’t selling, I wouldn’t feel as if we were taking such a risk when ordering.

Recently we have been contacted by a few companies offering older stock at reduced prices. I would be happy to take older stock if the price is lower, as much of our stock works well in terms of collectability if it is older.
Many products sell differently depending on the area or the type of retailer. For example, I have sometimes been into other toyshops, which have loads of a particular product on the shelves that we have sold out of and can’t get hold of from the supplier. If the companies took back this stock, we could probably have sold it, which would work better for everyone involved, especially now that many toy companies seem to be playing it safe and not producing as much of each line.

I definitely feel that if suppliers offered more of an incentive, or a time frame within which we could send products back if they weren’t selling, I’d be happier to take a risk, but I am uncomfortable if I have to ask for help, especially as an independent company talking to larger suppliers. It can feel a bit daunting.
Lucy Pole, Millions of Toys, Swadlincote

“Suppliers are usually happy to help”
In the main, we find that the big players like Lego, Playmobil, Brio and others are helpful when we are trying to push lines through.

Others are less helpful, but most are anxious to help the smaller, independent stores with promotions and are supportive when we are trying to experiment with new ideas in the shop.

Recently, we’re trying to leave the prices the same to avoid turning the business into one big sale and instead, we’re working with new promotional ideas including vouchers and buy one toy, get another free offers.
In the current climate, I think most suppliers have sharpened their pencil and are aware that the consumer is now looking for play value and it’s not just about smart packaging, but what’s inside that counts, which has always been our motto anyway.

I don’t think there has been a dramatic downturn in sales though, despite the recession. I think consumers are now looking for entertainment within the home instead of spending on going out, so it hasn’t hit the toy market too hard.

You need to focus on what the toys do and make the most of them when you are presenting them. It’s no good to just stick things on a shelf and expect it to sell, you have to be creative and get involved – that’s the best way to move through the stock and the toy companies will help you to do that.

We recently started to run painting competitions with local primary schools. The response has been so good that we’ve rolled it out to more schools and provided prizes for the top three in each school. Activities like this bring attention to certain merchandise and help to increase the footfall through the store and it also helps get kids playing and being creative rather than sitting in front of the TV.

The suppliers are usually happy to help out with prizes for these kinds of initiatives as they can see the value in them. We also try to get involved with community events and provide products for raffles, competitions and the like and the toy companies will help with this too. I think they are mindful of what we are trying to do and they appreciate it. I think they see it as a form of advertising so they don’t mind helping out and it ultimately helps us to sell.
Eric Snook, Snooks Toy Shop, Bath

“We will always ask for help”
In general, we have a good relationship with our suppliers and their reps and agents; we are guided by their suggestions and fully take on board which new lines they feel will be suitable for The Toy Cupboard. However, saying that, we are a traditional toy shop and whilst we carry a wide variety of products, old and new, we will always go by our own instincts, our experience of the market and knowledge of the needs of our own customer base.

This means we are happy to try new lines and take risks on them to a certain degree.

In general, we don’t find that we have a great deal of slower moving stock, but we will always ask for help to clear the space for a supplier’s new ranges if necessary. After all, it is in their interest as much as ours to make way for new key lines. We don’t always get the back up required, but generally we are able to do a promotion with the aid of some free stock.

With the demise of Woolworth’s and the current economic climate it is more important that suppliers and independents work together to deliver the consumer the right product at the right price without compromising on margin.
Alison Dries, The Toy Cupboard, Winchester

“It’s my responsibility”

We don’t tend to get much help when lines aren’t selling very well, but I don’t need their help, it’s not their responsibility, it’s my fault for ordering it and it’s my responsibility to sell it.

To be honest, the main problem for us isn’t selling the toys, it’s getting the stock, as so much of what we order isn’t available immediately. We are the only toy shop in Anglesey and it’s quite a way for the reps to come just for one customer. Some do visit, but not many. It’s also expensive for the companies to send product to us, so if there is a minimum order of £450-500, and some of it’s not in stock, we end up only getting some, or not getting any at all.

When I ring up, they tell me that they can’t send the order because some of the items aren’t available, but that’s not my fault. By the time it comes, sometimes it’s too late and I’ll have had something else ordered by then. Of course if the stock is seasonal, I need it there and then, not weeks later, otherwise we’ll never be able to sell it.

Sometimes I will take a risk on new items. Some of the firms who don’t send reps up to me will send samples and information and if I like it, I’ll try it, but only four or five of the companies have sales agents who are regularly in touch with me.
John Hughes, Lookaround Toy Shop, Anglesey

“Relationships are key”

It really does vary from company to company. Some are really good at helping you out and others see it as your own responsibility as you made the decision to order the stock.

I think it really depends on the relationship you have with the sales reps. If you have a good relationship with them, they will try to help you out wherever they can. Even if the company policy is not to take stock back, the rep will usually find some way around it and help you out in some way. They may have another retailer on their books that is selling the product better and may be able to swap product between you to help you out.
I do feel that I can ask for help from those that I have a good relationship with. But it is up to you as well as the reps to build those relationships, it’s not just their responsibility, it’s ours too. In turn that makes our life easier if a problem does arise.

There are some who I don’t have as strong relationships with for whatever reason, whether that’s because we don’t order much from them, or we aren’t one of their key clients, so we don’t see much of them or have the same level of contact. I wouldn’t feel that I could approach those companies if I was having a problem selling their stock, which just shows that those relationships are really key.
Vicky Brown, Just Williams, Herne Hill, London

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