Suppliers: Get Out from behind Your Desks!  2/2/2015

A couple of years ago I was involved in a project that just wasn’t getting executed properly at store level. It was really frustrating. We had created several versions of procedure sheets, trying each time to make the directions – which were very simple -- as clear as possible and illustrating each of the three (yes, only three) steps with pictures and captions.

We even added a bit of “romance copy” for the employees to better understand the finished product and to serve as talking points for them to use with their customers.

The products were absolutely fantastic and the retailer really wanted to continue to support them, but we knew we were starting to see the writing on the wall. If we didn’t take action, we’d risk having the products pulled due to no fault of our own. We asked for a meeting, booked a flight and headed to the retailer’s main office.

“We are really disappointed about what it happening,” the retailer told us. “Our employees are trying to make these products work, but the preparation process is completely different than it is for other products of yours that we’ve carried in the past. Although we listed these new products because they are easier to execute, our employees keep reverting back to the old process they are used to.”

Everyone sat quietly for moment, looking down at the table. The retailer didn’t want admit it was a lack of execution; we didn’t want to lose the business because of it. If the situation had been about the products not performing, that would be another story. But these were great items, and we would not give up that easily.

I picked my head up and asked, “Can we train them?” Every head came up. They all looked at me as if I had just grown an extra nose.

“We have almost 200 stores. You are going to go to all of them?”

One of the merchandisers then had an idea, “We do have some district meetings coming up,” he said. “Maybe we could hold the meetings in a store, rather than the office, and include some hands on training. This is a great idea!” All agreed and dates were set.

It took some commitment on the part of the manufacturer to support additional travel expenses -- and there was no lack of grumbling -- but coming up with a unique solution that brought us out from behind our desks and into the front lines paid off for everyone!

The hands-on, fun and friendly “cheerleading” presentations created excitement among associates and extra support blew away the department managers. The training was a success, and the correct execution in the store led to increased sales, which resulted in a deeper relationship between the retailer and the manufacturer – and more listings in other categories!

Here are some key takeaways we learned from the project:

  • Avoid “ruts.” A relationship between a manufacturer and a retailer should never fall into a mindless rut. It should be dynamic – both sides keeping in touch and brainstorming ideas on a regular basis. We so often hear from retailers that once a product is listed, the only communication from their suppliers is to ask for the next PO. Remember, these retailers are meeting everyday with your competitors, who are working very hard to replace you.
  • Get out from behind your desk!! I can’t emphasize this enough - get out from behind your desk!! There is nothing like getting out into the field, seeing for yourself how retailers are displaying, promoting, and selling your products in the store – or to see how shoppers are reacting to them. Spreadsheets can only tell you so much, you need to be where the rubber meets the road.
  • Take creative risks: Don’t be afraid to take a chance on an idea that is out-of-the box (or even downright crazy). This keeps things fresh, and provides consumers with new experiences around your product.

Andrea Leiser

RSVP Solutions Group

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