The Perfect Partners
A new study conducted by the Pet Industry Distributors Association is revealing what retailers want from their pet product distributors.
The Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA) is engaged in a comprehensive survey of pet retailers and their distributor relationships. The study set out to answer some key questions about this crucial partnership:
• Why does a pet store owner use one distributor over another?
• How satisfied are pet store owners with their distributors?
• What do storeowners see as the key strengths and weaknesses of distributors?
• How can distributors improve how they serve their customers?
The study is still ongoing, with an online survey of more than 8,000 pet retailers currently underway. But preliminary results based on detailed conversations with two dozen storeowners provide some interesting insights.
The most important reason a pet store owner (or other decision maker) selects a distributor is because they are the sole source for a desired product. This is one reason most pet stores order from five to 10 different distributors. Buyers are looking for products with broad appeal that are readily available to them but are not sold in big-box stores or on Amazon. They want products that are well made by reputable manufacturers that stand behind their products with warranties and return policies. Products that are considered “healthy” and that are made in the U.S. are particularly popular.
Besides product selection, retailers say that the distributors they order from the most have:
• Good prices
• Better service, including accurate order fulfillment, returns and credit
• Good inside and outside sales reps who take time to get to know them and their needs, serve as intermediaries for discounts and are problem solvers.
The quality of a distributor’s delivery drivers is an important factor in retailers’ distributor relationships. This is not surprising, since delivery drivers are generally seen more frequently than sales reps. A good driver stays on time and on schedule, is cheerful and learns the pet store owners’ delivery preferences, does a quality check on goods when delivering (checking for torn bags, chipped aquariums, etc.), handles and processes returns and solves basic problems.
Sales reps are an important link between distributors and retailers, too. Typical rep visits last 30 to 45 minutes and focus on new products and problems with orders and returns. Good reps offer advice and information about products that are selling well and, conversely, are willing to warn buyers away from a problem product. They help connect the retailer with a manufacturer sales rep for particular support needs.
As one retailer commented, “The best reps really know their product lines. They don’t bash other distributors. They already know what I do here. They remember the things that interest me without going through a lot of things not of interest to me. They know a bit about my business.”
Room for Improvement
The single biggest complaint pet store owners have about distributors is the frequency of out-of-stock items. Since few stores have the luxury of extra storage, when products are out of stock with the distributor, the store can quickly experience empty shelves. This can impact the bottom line on items such as pet food that customers buy regularly.
Distributors’ websites can help alleviate out of stock problems when they accurately show current stock available—not just whether a product is in stock or out. In addition, the best distributors’ websites:
• Have information logically organized and a strong search function so stores can browse and drill down to the item they want.
• Show current product photos that help ensure that clients are ordering the product they want.
• Show UPC codes, not just the distributor’s own item number, to allow for easy searching and price comparisons.
More details are sure to emerge as the study is completed. PIDA’s goal is to help distributors get unbiased feedback on retailers’ needs and to understand where they can improve their policies and procedures to meet those needs. Independent pet retailers and their distributor partners should be in lockstep in meeting the challenge of big box and online competition. Working together is the best way to keep pet owners, and their pets, happy. PB
Steve King is a 35-year veteran of the pet industry. He is currently president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association and executive director of the Pet Care Trust.