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Challenges, problems, and triumphs -- from a manufacturer's perspective.

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The Three L's: You Can't Sell Without Them

How to look, listen, and learn.

by Vinny Da Vendor (September, 2003)

(Note: Vinny is a top exec for a major industry manufacturer. You can read his previous columns by clicking on the headline at the top of the right-hand column.

Those who know me understand the nature of my madness: "Bark, Bark, Solve" is the way I operate. I've barked in a couple of columns, now it's time to solve. That said, let me provide you with some constructive thoughts on dealing with the big-box retailers.

Now, more than ever, is the time for manufacturers to: A. Look for ways to assist retailers achieve their goals. B. Listen to what the buyer is telling you about what should/must be done to advance with the chain. C. Learn the tools of the trade (specific to each retailer) to accomplish A and B.

If you are a manufacturer servicing the $30 billion craft industry, and your annual sales are in excess of $2 million, then I am certain you are dealing with our big-box retailers. If you are not dealing with the big box retailers at present, chances are you are aching to, as this is seemingly the only means to dramatic sales growth.

No longer is the salesperson the only person dealing with customers. Today it takes a village to bring up sales in a big box retailer! When a salesperson "closes the deal" with a major retailer, it is not the end of a sale, but the beginning of a marriage.

For a long-term marriage, you need to LOOK, LISTEN, AND LEARN long before you book your appointment with the buyer to unveil your next line of products.

1. Chances are this account makes up 15% or more of your sales, thus you will be greatly interested in LOOKing to see what growth opportunities are available to you. LOOK at the store's plan-o-gram of the specific niche you cover; if it's small enough, set up that part of the store on a wall in your building.

LOOK for holes in the plan-o-gram that you can easily fill to increase the retailer's breadth of product offering and consequently the sales. LOOK up the POS quantities on your products using the retailer's system. Determine what is working and what is not. Make recommendations for changeovers.

2. Ask the buyer for input into the retailer's goals for the department in the coming year, and LISTEN to what is said in-between the lines.

For example, the buyer might say, "I hear paisley patterns may be the trend this year; what are your thoughts?" This is not an idle question. The buyer is not only telling you that he wants a paisley pattern ASAP from you, he is also saying that your competitor recently showed him a paisley pattern item, he liked it, he feels it will best accomplish his sales goals for a certain hook that you currently occupy, and he wanted to see your version before he gave your hook away.

3. LEARN all you can about your products through the data that the retailer will share with you, and provide the buyer with concise strategies for improving the department's sales using your products.

Ten years ago I was struck by an eloquent speaker who said that we had moved into the information age, a revolutionary time wherein more value would be placed on information than any other activity of business. He was right.

Today the retailer provides his vendor partners with access to a wealth of product-specific data. Chains have now moved aggressively to convert their suppliers into product-line managers for their buyers. Suppliers are expected to advise the buyer on how their products are doing and what should be done differently.

A supplier's ability to successfully obtain, analyze, cull out, and report back meaningful information from their customer's data is no longer a key element to set the vendor apart from his competition. It is a requirement to continue to do business in the future.

The supplier who LEARNs from the information provided, and successfully encourages the buyer to make changes to grow sales, will be well-rewarded come time for new business when the open-to-buy is flowing free!

Well, I just finished studying data, and I must get into the nitty gritty on a store level for my widgets -- I've got a salesman gnawing at my ear for strategies.

Note: To read a chain's buyer's advice on selling to him, read "Benny Da Buyer" HERE. To comment on Vinny's columns, or to suggest new topics, email Mike Hartnett at mike@clnonline.com.



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Vinny's Recent Columns...
ADVICE ON EXPORTING TO THE UK AND EUROPE; An interview with the former CEO of HobbyCraft.

THE HISTORY OF WALNUT HOLLOW; One of the genuine pioneers of the modern craft industry.

HOW MICHIGAN SCRAPBOOKER WAS LAUNCHED; Substantial growth in 3+ years.

THE HISTORY OF PLAID ENTERPRISES, INC.; It's come a long way in 36 years.

"FLASH" SALES COME TO THE INDUSTRY; Q. & A. about the newest way to introduce new products or dispose of overstocks.

SITTING ON A BULLS EYE; What to do if competitors want your market share, or customers want to cut costs.


FIVE COMMON AFFLICTIONS OF SALES TEAMS; The result: Bad morale and lower sales.

BEYOND MARKET MULTIPLES: INCREASING THE VALUE OF YOUR COMPANY BEFORE THE SALE; How to create a company with greater appeal to buyers.

CHA SHOW NEW PRODUCT REPORT; Hundreds (thousands?) of products, many from new exhibitors.

THE SOLUTION TO MEXICAN DRUG CARTELS; A sure fire way to inspire them to quilt.

ATTRACTING YOUNGER CUSTOMERS; Yes, we aren't our mothers' knitters.

NEW PRODUCTS TO BE UNVEILED AT THE CHAS SHOW; Two parts: new exhibitors and veterans.

WHAT SCRAPPERS ARE SAYING ABOUT MANUFACTURERS AND PUBLISHERS; Scrapbook Updates' readers analyze the problems.

ANALYZING THE CHA ATTITUDE & USAGE STUDY; The rationale and the science behind the number.

REST IN PEACE: JEAN HOWARD BARR; JHB International's Founder and CEO.

POSITIVE NEWS ABOUT THE INDUSTRY; What they want/need from the industry.

COMMENTS FROM INDIE CRAFTERS; What they want/need from the industry.

UNDERSTANDING INDIE CRAFTERS (BY AN INDIE CRAFTER); What they want, what they buy, and how to reach them.

CHA EVENTS FOR MANUFACTURERS; How to get more out of a trade show besides selling your products.

CREATIVE INDUSTRY TURNS TO EDUCATION TO BEAT RECESSION; Simple solutions for vendors and retailers to create online video classes.

WHAT HAPPENED TO CREATIVE MEMORIES? Not adjusting to the times.


HOW A VENDOR SCAMMED A SCAMMER; A sharp eye, a sense of humor - and be wary.

HOW A SMALL VENDOR WAS ALMOST SCAMMED; A savvy, suspicious mind averted a serious financial loss.

COMPANY FOR SALE; The owner is retiring.

EXHIBITORS: YOU'RE WASTING YOUR MONEY! Check your customer list before pre-show mailings.

PLAID CONSERVES TO PRESERVE; Simple changes can mean big savings.

SUGGESTIONS FOR THE CHA SHOW; How to attract more buyers and exhibitors.

CHANGES AT A.C. MOORE; They may not be what they seem.

THE TERRI O SHOW IS COMING; Building industry sales by empowering consumers' creativity.


BOTTLES OF HOPE; A polymer clay grassroots movement.

SEWING SMILES FOR KIDS; Pillowcases and quilts for kids in hospitals.

HELPING THE WORLD IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE; Mrs. Grossman's, C&T Publishing, and Tara Materials.

HELP PEOPLE -- AND THE WORLD; How one company contributes to charities and to Mother Nature.

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS AND HELPING THE WORLD; Plaid employees' long list of charitable activities.

A SAVVY WAY TO INTRODUCE A NEW LINE; Put it in the hands of consumers and teachers.

CHA AND PMA: SHOULD IT BE EITHER/OR? Why not take the best of both worlds?


RESPONSES TO CLN'S CODE OF ETHICS...from chain store execs, vendors, and reps.

PROVO RESPONDS TO CRICUT CRITICS; Unexpected demand caused problems.

ADVICE TO VENDORS; Common sense, please!

HOW TO HAVE A GREAT TRADE SHOW; It takes more than great products.

KEY CHALLENGES/OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE CRAFT INDUSTRY IN 2006; Office supply, private label, and direct import.

IS MIKE DUPEY RIGHT? The industry's retail pioneer's criticism of chain stores elicits strong reactions.

RETAILERS: CREATE A "PLACE," NOT A STORE; Customers return if they feel a sense of community.

"HOW AND WHY WE CHANGED OUR BUSINESS"; Sometimes necessity forces gutsy businesses into new, scary areas.

WHY INDEPENDENTS ARE DECLINING AND THE INDUSTRY IS SOFT; We can't improve the situation until we understand the causes.

HOW TO MAKE THE SCRAPBOOK PIE LARGER; "Keep it simple and non-threatening."

INDEPENDENTS: SUPPORT VENDORS WHO SUPPORT YOU; "Support goes both ways. It is a relationship of trust and consistency."

WHAT MAKES A GREAT SALES REP? Colleagues and customers remember the late Bob Watikins.

TRADE SHOW PRESS POINTERS; Maximize your publicity for a minimal cost.

HOW CAN A SCRAPBOOK START-UP SUCCEED? The answer may be a "Group" away.

DO TRADE SHOWS REFLECT THE STATE OF THE INDUSTRY? If we're like other industries, trade shows may be in trouble.


THE STATE OF THE FLORAL MARKET; A blunt interview with Aldik's Larry Gold.

YOU WANT JUNK? YOU GOT IT; Pricing pressures are ruining good categories.

PLANNING THE PERFECT TRADE SHOW; Ten tips for CHA Winter Show exhibitors.

MORE VENDORS RESPOND...; A dialog between vendors and a savvy but unhappy independent.

VENDORS RESPOND TO INDEPENDENT'S PLIGHT; Why vendors have minimums and what retailers can do about it.

RETAIL, E-TAIL, AND "UNFAIR COMPETITION"; Expensive advertising, false promises, and little education.

THE TRIALS OF A SMALL COMPANY, PT. II; Expensive advertising, false promises, and little education.

THE TRIALS OF A SMALL COMPANY; Talent, drive, and product -- but no money.


THE THREE L's: YOU CAN'T SELL WITHOUT THEM; How to look, listen, and learn.

IT WASN'T ALWAYS THIS WAY...; but why does that matter?

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO STRAWBERRY?; Does every new product have to be cheap?