A view of the industry through the
eyes of a chain buyer.
How To Drive a Retailer Crazy
... And lose a good customer
by Name Withheld (December 19, 2005)
I just figured I’d drop CLN a note to express how
frustrated I have been lately with the customer service/shipping
departments of scrapbook manufacturers. I am a small business, and
as such, have to wear many different hats (each of them could easily
require a full-time occupant, but my head is the only one they fit
on right now), and so it is immensely difficult to get anything done
when I have to "clean up" after companies that are messing
up by the numbers.
If manufacturers question why retailers seem less loyal these
days, this might clue them in to just why. (And here's my
disclaimer: I realize humans are involved in this whole process, and
therefore things are likely to get messed up from time to time, but
this is getting ridiculous!)
I am at my wit's end, and couldn’t imagine messing up my
relationship with my customers like this and expect to be in
business for very long. This is what has happened to me in the last
couple of weeks:
I receive an order from a prominent cardstock manufacturer. This
was my first order with them, and I ordered a rack program and lots
of other "goodies." At the time of my order, I was told I
would get a 15% discount.
WHAT HAPPENED? I unexpectedly receive the rack via common
carrier. My only employee was the only one at the store and had to
haul everything into the store piece by piece. Each display weighs
about 400 pounds, so you can imagine this took a while – forget
about the fact that they accidentally shipped us two of them – but
we’ll get to that in a second.
There is no picture of what this rack is supposed to look like
when assembled, and we had not yet received the cardstock that would
eventually find its home there, so my employee spends an entire day
assembling every piece that shows up – keep in mind that we
reported one of the main supports for one of the racks as broken,
and paper "brackets" are missing.
Then the cardstock arrived – after unpacking the boxes and
organizing them, we realized that what we first thought was one side
of the display was actually an entire display, as every SKU of paper
we ordered fit in the one side. This was over a weekend, and so we
couldn’t call anyone to ask about this curiosity. I got a call
first thing Tuesday morning (we are closed Mondays) from this
cardstock company. They said the display manufacturer mistakenly
shipped two displays and they would call-tag the extra one; when
could we have it ready and out front to be picked up?
Keep in mind this is the Tuesday before Thanksgiving – so I
told her not until the following Tuesday at the earliest, but I made
sure to inform her that it was already assembled, was damaged, and
had missing parts, so I wasn’t sure if it would be worth the
return shipping to them.
(By the way, the shipping is $247 per display; they warn
retailers that shipping is "expensive," but never really
mention HOW expensive; yet I’m sure this well established company
could quote quite accurately by region).
The company employee said she would make some calls and get back
with me. All other communications from this point were made by my
employee, because the woman never contacted the store while I was
in, and was "in meetings" when I tried to call back.
When she called back and talked with my employee, she acted
surprised to find out the rack had been assembled: "Oh, well I
didn’t know that. Well, we need to find out what she (me) would be
willing to pay for the rack. We (the display manufacturer) won’t
just let her have it for free…just out of principle."
I had told my employee to tell her I would pay $150 for the
display – I figured that, with it being damaged and missing parts,
and the fact that shipping is so outrageous – and factoring in
that the actual COST of this thing was not nearly what I would be
charged for one brand-new – this seemed to be a reasonable
compromise. THE KILLER OUTCOME? My employee never had the chance to
make this offer, as we couldn’t contact ANYONE.
The next call came a day or so later from the cardstock company.
We were to have the display ready the following Tuesday or Wednesday
– someone named David would be picking it up with his truck and
covered trailer. As it turns out, the mistake was that of the
cardstock company – they had double faxed the order for the
display, so it was the cardstock company who had to eat the mistake
– it was not the display manufacturer who made the mistake.
It seems, additionally, that this "David" person
happens to co-own a scrapbook store about 1.5 hours from here, and
he is a very good customers of this cardstock company. I imagine the
company cut him a sweet deal. The company has also effectively
ensured that I will never be that good of a customer – and I have
instructed my employee NOT to help him move the display – I’m
already out over a day’s wages over this whole mess – and it
took the insistence of a sales rep on my behalf to persuade this
company to even write me a letter apologizing, and maybe offer me
something for my troubles.
And oh yes, there was no 15% discount reflected for any part of
the order on my invoice.
Another manufacturer (they are doing great things for me, but
geez) double-shipped a $3400+ order (and not even in its entirety…the
second shipment was only about $2900). This was all billed, by the
way, freight collect to my Fedex account – I hope I get that all
I placed an order online with another manufacturer, and requested
UPS 3-Day Select so it would get here in time to bag stuff up for my
holiday sale. I got my shipping notification on a Saturday –
shipped via UPS Ground – saying the expected arrival was the
MONDAY after Thanksgiving.
When I called them, the rep shipped out the items that I
absolutely needed that week via UPS Next Day. The point here is that
I had to call to fix it, and still have to pack up the box that
finally did arrive (once I extracted the items that were not UPS’d
(nice verb, huh?) Next-Day and ship it back to them.
I placed a pretty sizable order with another manufacturer at MemoryTrends
for an entire calendar collection the company had just introduced.
It ended up being shipped in two parts – the papers first and the
rub-ons to follow. Today my employee called me to say that we just
received another entire shipment of the rub-ons. Again, time wasted
in making calls, getting call-tags sent, and hoping that my open
account reflects the proper credits in the end.
I already feel like I can’t do any area of my business to my
fullest potential, because my attention is so minutely divided –
bookkeeper, buyer, merchandiser, PR rep, website developer, clerk,
creative team leader, advertising director…AAARRRGGGHHH!
These are all titles I chose to take on by becoming a small
business owner, but nowhere am I being compensated for doing these
companies’ jobs for them. I have the least amount of complaints
about my distributor: I have fewer mistakes on orders from them (and
I have many more orders placed with them than most of my vendors put
together), and they have to deal with a lot more variables than any
It is just getting to be too much to have to deal with – is
there a sector of the crafting industry that has a better track
record of shipping the right stuff, at the right cost, with minimal
damage, and actually DOES SOMETHING when they mess up?
In other words, is anyone out there doing what they’re supposed
to be doing? I may just jump ship and join their minions.
(Editor's note: This independent's tale of woe gets worse.
A few days after CLN received the above email, Chapter II
between her and the vendor arrived. It was filled with
more examples of poor communication, lack of concern for the
customer, confusion, and changing policies by the vendor. The end
result: the retailer spending even more time with phone calls,
inaccurate bills, and shipping hassles – rather than concentrating
on satisfying her customers and making her store more profitable.)
(Note: To read previous "Benny" columns, click
on the titles in the right-hand column. To comment on this or any
other industry issue – on or off the record – email CLN