It is well recognized that the relationship between Retail Buyer and vendor has changed in the last ten years. In the 90s and into the 2000s, it was possible—indeed essential—to build a relationship with key buyers, and on the back of that relationship, build collaborative frameworks. Whist there is an obvious risk in over generalizing, today’s buyers rotate through roles and categories much faster, making it much harder to build a personal relationship. Furthermore, those same buyers seem to be responsible for ever broader portfolios, with the result that you are competing for their attention.
While both of those trends are unwelcome in the eyes of a typical vendor, they do present opportunities for a smart vendor. Below is our checklist of tactics you can use to get closer to your buyers.
Put Yourself in the Shoes of a Buyer
You are simultaneously trying to get your head around new categories, review ranges, meet vendors, provide forecasts, work on margin optimization, planograms, fighting fires and so on. It’s a high pressure environment. What gets your attention? The crisis of the day—late delivery of a promoted line, deadline for copy, sales meeting to discuss missed sales targets, failed QA tests on a new range, and more internal meetings…
Vendors are constantly wanting to meet with you to talk about new ranges, getting more space allocated to their products, getting new packaging signed off, and more. Yet you don’t have the Open to Buy because last month’s sales missed the target.
In short, it is a stressful environment to operate in. Buyers deserve some sympathy!
How can you turn this situation to your advantage? By seeing the world through your buyer’s eyes and helping them navigate through this ocean of conflicting interests.
- Give them a Category Review presentation to help them get to know the category.
- What drives the units and what drives the dollars? What are the higher retail margin products?
- Which are the key brands?
- How is the category trending, and what influences the category growth?
- What are the international trends that might impact the category?
- Try to meet with your new buyer in a store, so you can show them how the category works.
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Try to be impartial and objective. Remember you are trying to help your buyer understand the business and look good. If done well, they will be very grateful.
- Provide regular analysis of the business, highlighting key opportunities and risks.
Focus on how your buyer can improve GMROI (gross margin return on investment). That means how to drive incremental sales with less stock.
- Highlight where there is excessive stock sitting in stores, not selling, tying up vital working capital.
- Equally, highlight where out of stocks are leading to lost sales.
- Present solutions to problems, not just the problems in isolation.
- If the stock is in the wrong locations, offer to help relocate it.
- Think about all the elements of the mix and how you can help consumers purchase more.
- Suggest ideas for better signage, innovative fixturing, and informative Point of Sale.
- Present ideas for new layouts which will highlight higher margin products to drive a higher average category margin. Offer to invest in the resources to relay a handful of trial stores to test the hypothesis (on the basis that if it doesn’t work, you will return the stores to the original layout).
- Prepare mood boards to show your buyers what is happening overseas in your categories.
- Give them the evidence and the visuals to make them look like the smartest person in the room.
If you make your buyer look good, you will have a much more influential seat at the table from which to negotiate.
Using a retailer’s own POS data to provide objective, timely, fact based and rational recommendations on how to drive higher sales with less stock is almost guaranteed to ensure your buyer will want to have you around, providing advice and input.
Finally, whenever you meet a buyer in a store, make sure you have at least one recommendation on how to improve their business in a category in which you have no interest. This demonstrates to the buyer that you are genuinely trying to help them, even though you have nothing to gain from the recommendation. It establishes credibility and trust—the two currencies that will see you succeed with your buyer.