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A view of the industry through the eyes of a chain buyer.

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Why I Don't Stop At Your Booth

Advice on selling chains.

by "Benny Da Buyer" (September, 2003)

(Note: Benny is the pseudonym for a chain buyer. His earlier column is below.)

So you're exhibiting at a trade show the first time. Your head is filled with visions of a crowded booth, fistfuls of orders, and chain buyers pleading, "Please, ship me first."

It probably ain't gonna happen. Oh, I hope for your sake the independents mob your booth and place orders, but I don't do business that way. I can't.

First, I don't see just something I like, walk into a booth, and order it. The stakes are too high for me to make a snap decision like that. I make decisions in my office after very careful deliberation, then my computer generates the purchase order.

You want to sell me? Make an appointment. Some chains have special "new vendor" days where you can come in and give us your pitch.

If I seem skeptical when you tell me your product is the greatest thing since sliced bread, realize I hear that from all the vendors. The biggest dogs I've ever bought, the vendors had told me how great it was.

I do want you to succeed, but I have serious doubts about your ability to deal with me. I look at your little booth and wonder, "Can you ship reliably, in large quantities? Do you have the right computer systems? Who are you, anyway? How do I know I can count on you?"

Besides the question of your reliability, I worry if you're ready to deal with me. It ain't easy. Think about these things:

Price. Are you ready to negotiate on price? Remember, I'm going to buy in large quantities. I'll tell you want I think it should sell for, I'll figure out the margin I need, and then I'll tell you the price.

If you can't make a profit on that, by all means, tell me no and walk away. The last thing I need is a new vendor who goes belly up a year later.

And keep in mind, some chains will ask for all sorts of things AFTER you've both agreed on the price. Maybe it's an ad allowance, special packaging, a header for an endcap, a project sheet, etc. Trust me, our imagination is endless.

Resets. I don't change around my department every time I see a good new product. If I did, that the store managers (and my boss) would kill me. Be patient.

Existing Inventory. I don't have unlimited room. If I'm going to put your line in, something probably has to go. What do I do with it? Can you help me there?

Marketing. You think all you have to do is ship the product and send the invoice? What are you going to do to help me sell the darn stuff? Do you have an advertising budget? How are you going to get the word out to the consumer?

A Final Word.

I know some buyers are under pressure from the higher-ups to reduce the number of vendors we deal with. That doesn't bode well for you, so think about this:

If you find yourself up against a stone wall, look for a company that already sells to chains. Manufacturers like that already know how to deal with me. Think about approaching them with a deal -- you make the product and then they market and sell it. I know Vinny is always in the market for new craft products and ideas to get into the chains. I am sure Mike Hartnett can easily assist you with finding the right partnership to get your product on the shelves of the craft industry giants.

(Note: The "Vinny" referred to here is the psuedonym for a top exec for a major craft manufacturer. Read his columns by clicking on "Vinny Da Vendor" in the left-hand column or click HERE. Have any thoughts, questions, complaints, or comments for Benny? Email them -- on or off the record -- to Mike Hartnett at mike@clnonline.com, and he'll pass them along.)



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BE A MEDIA DARLING: 5 TIPS TO A SUCCESSFUL INTERVIEW; How to talk to reporters to maximize the positive effects of media attention.

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HOW DO WE TURN THIS "CRAFTER" INTO A SCRAPBOOKER?; An essential goal if the scrapbook market is to grow.

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BUYER'S HORROR STORIES; Vendors: here's what NOT to do at trade shows.

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WHY I DON'T STOP AT YOUR BOOTH; Advice on selling chains.

HEY VINNY: DON'T YELL AT ME; I don't make the rules.