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Sometimes, It Can Be as Simple as Just Asking

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Pet retailers inherently understand that they need their vendors, or they won’t have anything to sell. But if a retailer views product procurement as the entirety of the retailer-vendor relationship, it is likely that such a retailer is missing lots of opportunities to maximize profits.

Vendors say many pet retailers fail to take advantage of the help vendors can provide, not only to more effectively merchandise product, but also to better understand what customers really want.

And it starts when retailers understand their need to be proactive in reaching out to vendors who are ready to help.

“We’re in 10,000 stores in the U.S., so we can’t realistically reach out and on our end contact every single one of those retailers and explain every resource we have,” Chris Meiering, director of marketing for pet supply manufacturer Zuke’s, said. “We rely on our distribution partners, their sales teams, and our internal sales teams, to get that word out. But that doesn’t always reach the retailer.”

Meiering said Zuke’s tries to fill in the gaps for retailers who don’t have extensive experience. But retailers have to ask.

“If a retailer needs something for a brand like Zuke’s to promote in-store, we probably have what you need,” Meiering said. “And if you’re a retailer and you’re proactive about reaching out to us, we’ll make every best effort to provide that to you. One thing we realize about small businesses is that they’re in it for the love of the pet and they may not have a degree in merchandising or marketing. So we’re there to help.”

Zuke’s publishes a calendar four to six months in advance that details special promotions and offerings designed to help retailers, whether with display materials or other ideas to help move products.

“So a savvy retailer will be asking their distribution partners, the sales reps that come in the store, ‘Hey, what’s coming up for Zuke’s?’” Meiering said. “And if we’ve done our job then we should have a pretty good idea of what’s coming down the pike in the future with respect to our promotions, and they can plan around that in a cohesive manner.”

The two biggest mistakes retailers make, Meiering said, are presenting brands in ineffective ways and failing to take advantage of promotions vendors offer.

“We have promotions at every single trade show,” Meiering said. “You can get our point-of-sale materials for free. If you come to a show, you can get free floor racks. We offer a lot of things that help to build that brand message, and we provide them for free or at a discount.”

Meiering also emphasized that retailers can get many materials, including sell sheets and logos, through their online retailer portal.

Various Opportunities

In addition to getting marketing materials online, retailers can take advantage of vendor-provided opportunities to market online.

“Retailers have not taken advantage of their vendors’ own local social media impact,” David Yaskulka, vice president of marketing communications for pet care products manufacturer Halo, said. “Independent pet specialty retailers thrive on word of mouth, and there’s no better or more cost-effective way to build word of mouth than social media.”

But just because you put something out via social media doesn’t mean it will be effective.

“The challenge for independents is finding great content for social media,” Yaskulka said. “Halo provides ‘social media in a box’ for retailers, social media content that entertains, inspires, educates, engages and sells. Content they can use on a daily basis just by clicking ‘share.’ So do some other vendors. That’s a critical way retailers can partner with vendors.”

An April 2013 report from Retail Touch Points emphasized that retailersupplier collaboration is growing as a priority for smart companies who want to work together to grow the profitability of their relationships.

“To combat today’s supply-chain challenges, smart retailers are taking a more focused look at collaborating with their supply partners,” wrote report author Lorna Pappas. “A successful retailer-supplier collaboration can help alleviate pressures along all key points in the supply system. A strong alliance can bring products to market faster, reduce production and logistics costs, drive market share and increase sales, while maximizing ROI for both partners.”

Pappas’ report cites CVS Caremark as a model for retailer-supplier collaboration, based on Caremark’s recognition that neither supplier nor retailer has everything necessary to make the relationship mutually successful, and its successful combined focus on the needs and strengths of both parties.

Such collaboration can include shared use of technology like Enterprise Resource Planning software, transportation planning, forecasting, replenishment and much more.

The report also discusses greater use of more quickly obtainable consumer research to help retailers and suppliers to more effectively plan the selection, quantity and timing of products to be ordered and shipped.

- Dan Calabrese

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