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306 Parker Circle
Lawrence, KS 66049
Phone: 785-760-5071
Email: mike@clnonline.com


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

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How To Drive a Retailer Crazy ... 

... And lose a good customer forever.

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 straightened out!

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 single manufacturer.

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 at mike@clnonline.com.)



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