As I was walking through one of my stores a couple of weeks ago, I noticed we were starting to get some Innova back on the shelf. I would say we were about 50 percent in stock. It so happened that I was leaving for California in a couple of days to call on retailers with my distributor. I was really curious to find out what the retailers were thinking about the whole recall situation and how it was handled.
I was in a store when my phone rang. It was a friend who runs some stores on the East Coast. I will summarize the conversation. A customer called his store asking for a particular sku of Innova. My friend was still out of stock, he called the distributor who was also not yet in stock. He called the customer to explain the situation and was told “no problem, I got it at Petco.” He ran over to the Petco and sure enough, they were in full stock.
I obviously could hear and feel the anger, disappointment and sense of betrayal in my friend’s voice. To be honest, I feel exactly the same way. Truth be told, I expected nothing different from P&G, but hope springs eternal. The sales rep I was riding with in California told me the same thing was going on in her part of the country.
As I expected there were two reactions from retailers. One was throwing the food out, this was the last straw. I cringed when I heard that. With all due respect, that is a dumb way to react. It will absolutely cost you customers. You cannot convince all your customers to switch to the food you want them to use. You will only convince some of them. You will lose the customers you didn’t convince and guess where they will start shopping.
The better way to handle this, and the way most of the folks I know are doing is to let the customer decide. By all means try to switch them if that is your plan, but have the Natura products in your store. Your customers are very savvy, let them decide if they should continue to buy the food. At the risk of getting a retailer we visited angry, I heard him telling a customer how awful Innova was. First, it is unprofessional to do that, never knock a brand. Second, if the customer still wants to buy it, she ain’t coming back to your store. Sell on the merits of the brand you like.
Natura will end up spending a ton of money to get back as many customers as possible. Why wouldn’t you want to participate in that? Take advantage of every nickel your rep or distributor offers, make sure your deals are every bit as good as the big boys.
Do you think your customers won’t go back to Innova due to the recall? Ask any East Coast retailer if their Taste of the Wild business has fallen since Taste had a recall. Nope. My guess is the same thing will happen with Natura.
In a sense, the only way I can get back at P&G is to take every penny I can from them. I will gladly promote Natura products and do whatever I can to get new customers into my store. If Natura can figure out a way to get those customers to buy their product, great. As we speak, we are sending a postcard to all our Natura customers with a pretty good coupon to come back and buy a bag.\
If I had thrown them out, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.
As far as the filling Petco and PetSmart first, really, what did you expect? What would have been a really good move on P&G’s part would have been to fill us (by us, I mean all us indies) first. Then the Natura reps could walk into our stores and rightfully claim “we do value your business.” You probably would be way more receptive to anything in the future they proposed since they would have backed up their “we won’t screw the independent” claim.
And oh, by the way, did you hear from any of the higher ups at Natura during this whole fiasco? Nope, didn’t think so. They just let the street reps take the brunt of it. I beg you, don’t take this out on your rep.
The more stores I visit, the more I realize that many owners are in for a severe shock when sophisticated chains or mini chains start opening in their markets. The big box stores call these operations ankle biters, I am proud to be in that club. I am stunned at the lack of marketing, promotion, and even competitive pricing.
I hope I convinced any readers not to throw Natura out. If I didn’t convince you, email me, let’s talk.
A successful retailer, Dave Ratner is the owner of Dave’s Soda & Pet City, an award-winning seven store mini-chain. Dave sits on the Board of the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association and the National Retail Federation.