Working Together: The Retailer-Distributor Partnership

Dan Calabrese//June 11, 2018//

Working Together: The Retailer-Distributor Partnership

Dan Calabrese //June 11, 2018//

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Your distributors are there to help you succeed as a pet retailer. It might not always seem that way when you’re haggling over invoices, fretting delivery schedules or wondering about product availability, but they need you to do well and you need them to do well.

And in most cases, a retailer and a distributor can develop a very strong, collaborative relationship just by communicating openly and professionally with each other.

If you want that open and professional communication to work well and yield fruit, it helps at the outset if you know what you should be talking to your distributor about. There are a lot of ways pet retailers can get more value out of their relationships with distributors, provided they understand how to approach the effort.

Here are a few areas of cooperation that can help retailers get more out of their distributor relationships:

Store Goals

Do your distributors know what your priorities are? Are you focused on growth, cost-cutting, increasing sales in a particular area? Distributors can often tailor their strategies to better align with a store’s goals, but first they have to know what those goals are.

You may think you’re doing everything you can by putting in orders and hoping you’re getting things right, but your distributor may be able to suggest modifications that can help you achieve more success. Remember, distributors service a lot of different retailers, so they’ve probably already seen someone else try to do what you’re trying to do. They might know a good way to do it that hasn’t even occurred to you.


Supply-chain technology is advancing so quickly, if you haven’t checked in for an update in the last six months, you’re probably several steps behind. Are you getting real-time visibility on deliveries? Are you able to see inventory as it changes by the minute? Are you and your distributor able to see the same information in real time across multiple platforms, using multiple devices?

There might be technological advances you haven’t even considered because you haven’t asked your distributors what they have. Granted, you’d think they’d tell you, but don’t assume that. You only know for sure if you ask.

Volume Discounts

Distributors are usually open-minded about volume discounts, but they don’t necessarily know of specific situations that call for them. If you need to order more of a certain item because it’s selling faster—or because you expect to push it more—you should find out ahead of time if your distributor can work with you on that. Maybe the distributor would prefer a higher volume than you have in mind, so you need to see if you can come together and make a deal work.

Return Policies

When distributors and retailers are misaligned on return policies, it’s often a matter of just a little daylight on issues like turnaround times or how credits will work on mis-picks and customer returns. Maybe the distributor has a tight deadline that doesn’t really work with how you tend to experience return issues. Do you just count it as a loss? Why not at least explore some type of accommodation that can reduce whatever you’re losing? The distributor might be able to benefit as well. You don’t know unless you ask.

Keeping Goods in Stock

Nothing frosts you more when you need to restock a certain product and the distributor doesn’t have it, or doesn’t have enough of it. That is understandable. But did the distributor know you would need it? Did you need it because your sales patterns have changed? Or because you’ve decided to put more emphasis on a certain product? If you could reliably tell your distributor you would buy 70 of a certain product every month—and keep your word—chances are the distributor would make a priority of having it available for you. But they don’t know if you don’t tell them.

At the same time, maybe you’ve seen a pattern of certain products being hit-or-miss with a particular distributor. Maybe you’re thinking of looking elsewhere because of it. But what might the distributor need from you that would make it more feasible for them to always have the product ready, so you can keep it in stock at your end?

Channel-Specific Resources

Your distributor may or may not serve a lot of different categories of retailer, but if it is established in the pet industry, chances are it has some resources specifically to help you boost sales and profits, or there might be something it is working on. Your input could be valuable in helping the distributor to decide exactly what it should be working on to become more valuable partners.

Planogram Models

Are you just sticking products wherever you have room for them on the shelves? Has it been years since you’ve reconsidered your planogram modeling? Many distributors can help you with research and strategies to better configure your shelves and aisles to more efficiently move products.

Don’t just assume you’re doing it the best way it can be done. Check around and see if your distributors have some other ideas. You don’t have to do it their way, but you might want to.

The common thread here is that, in every one of these categories, your distributor will do better if you do better. They want you to buy more product from them, and they want you to do it on a sustained basis. In order for that to happen, they need to know how to help you make it work.

They’re already invested in your success. You just have to tell them how they can help and, of course, find out what they need for you to make it possible. It’s a conversation worth having.


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