A view of the industry through the
eyes of a chain buyer.
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org,
and he'll pass them along.)