In addition to products, distributors are a source of essential sales support.
When asked about the value that distributors can bring to your table, buying power is probably what comes to your mind first. Sure, distributors allow retailers to buy smaller quantities of product at larger-quantity prices and access a wider selection from fewer sources. But, did you know that your distributors can help you boost your selling power too?
Small pet store owners single-handedly face the same marketing and merchandising responsibilities that are managed by the corporate office staff of big-box stores. To compete, independents need all the assistance they can get. That’s why you should lean on your distributors for support that will help move products off your shelves, as well as theirs.
The distributor members of the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA) are industry experts who know what works and what doesn’t in stores that are similar to yours. They can offer insights and advice to guide your purchasing decisions based on your size, specialty and sales information, such as average spend.
“There’s a limit to how much stock we have room for at one time,” says Wendie Dennison, general manager of Nashville Pet Products, an independent chain with five stores in the Nashville area. “Our distributors know us so well that they can help us tailor our product mix,” she says. “They give us data on how well certain lines sell in other markets. They point out items that they believe will sell well at our stores, and will let us know when they don’t think something is the best fit.”
As the direct link between products and consumers, helping retailers stay healthy and profitable benefits the supply chain as a whole.
“Our main challenge as an independent brick-and-mortar retailer is to maintain the right selection of inventory for our customers while also managing our cash flow,” says April Ruhl, owner of Keystone Pet Place in Mount Joy, Pa. “Our distributors appreciate our focus on our target market. They keep track of what’s turning and what’s not turning, and will only show us the right product mix.”
Distributors are willing to get their hands dirty in order to make your store an enjoyable place to shop. They can physically assist with store setups and remodels, develop planograms that maximize your selling space, create attention-grabbing displays that trigger impulse purchases, and coordinate resets to introduce new merchandise and give your store a fresh look.
Ruhl reaches out to her distributors when she needs help filling a new section or redoing an aisle. “They help us decide what’s missing and which new inventory will be attractive to our customers and profitable for our store,” she says. Distributors can provide guidelines, such as how many feet of shelf space a product merits, to help the make best use of every square foot.
Taking advantage of your distributors for merchandising services means you don’t have to hire a third party to get professional results. And, it can be fun. With the help of their distributor, Nashville Pet Products recently reset the collar and leash sections in each of their stores.
“Our rep provided each store manager with new collar, leash and harness options and helped them customize their own sets,” says Dennison. “Then she actually came in and did all the work herself to reset those sections—and they looked beautiful.”
In addition to expertise, distributors have the kind of pull that gets customers into your store and products into their hands. As your go-between to suppliers, they can connect you with manufacturer samples and giveaway items, as well as co-op advertising opportunities, customizable signage and marketing collateral. They can help you staff the sales floor during special events and organize employee training seminars at your store.
“Our distributors help immensely with in-store promotions like our annual customer appreciation event,” says Dennison. “This year about 2,000 customers attended, and every one of them received some type of gift or prize for coming. It was a huge success, thanks to our distributor partners.”
Ruhl also notices how much distributors help her store succeed.
“Good distributors want to see our store succeed,” she says. “They set us up with training to make sure we’re knowledgeable about the items we’re trying to sell and help us out with resources to promote them.”
The real power of distribution isn’t only about products. PIDA’s distributor members offer support and connections to help independents compete against big-boxes and dotcoms. Just like your small specialty store, service is what ultimately sets your distributor partners apart. To learn more about what your distributors can do for you, watch our video series on pidapowerofd.org. PB
Celeste Powers, CAE, is the new president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA). PIDA’s mission is to enhance the well-being of the wholesaler-distributor, to promote partnerships with their suppliers and customers, and to work cooperatively with other organizations in fostering the human/companion animal bond.