Now, as business seems to be steadily improving, more suppliers are looking for more opportunities to meet with you to share information about a new product or to update you on this year’s rebate program. The good thing is, when managed right, these reps offer you a unique opportunity to improve your store’s performance. How, you ask? Here are a few ways you can leverage your supplier relationships to help increase your store sales, boost margins and improve service to your customers.
Set an Agenda
First and foremost, be sure you are getting value for the time you invest with supplier reps. Too often we hear stories from store management and their supplier reps that most meetings could be more productive. To achieve this, set some ongoing expectations with your reps. Creating a simple score card that outlines three or four key areas of focus will give your rep a clear vision of how they, and their organization, can help you succeed. In short order, your reps will be better prepared to serve your specific needs and you will find that your meetings will become more purposeful and productive.
Utilize Their Resources
Your supplier rep is your conduit to the company he represents. Every year, those companies collectively invest hundreds of millions of dollars in technical, marketing and sales support, all dedicated to driving the sales of their products through you. Your rep can be a great access point in making sure you and your team are getting the most out of those resources and maximizing potential in your aisles.
As an example, supplier technical support teams and the information they provide are often a vastly under-utilized resource. Today, your rep likely supplies you with technical fact sheets and manuals that you use in training your team members about proper use or installation of products. And that’s key, right? After all, the service you provide your customers is probably the single biggest contributor to your customer’s loyalty.
Be sure you are taking full advantage of all your supplier’s technical resources. Suppliers are availing their technical teams to channel partners in many new ways, making it easier for you to keep your team on top of their game through the use of webinars, online instructional videos and at trade shows. The better your team is informed, the more their expertise will support your customers’ needs, further strengthening your core service value.
Utilize Their Marketing Data
Another area your rep can be of more value is with marketing support. As mentioned earlier, your suppliers make significant investments in marketing their products, to you, and to your customers. Be sure your rep is updating you on what products are being supported by marketing. Also, ask how products are performing in your area and what other products are seen as effective cross-sell opportunities.
Make Use of Marketing Collateral
In addition, be sure to understand timing and have your rep show you how the product(s) are being promoted. They can often arm you with additional support materials that you can leverage in your own marketing efforts in the store, online or in your local advertising. Using the supplier’s marketing materials can make a big difference, reducing your costs and building more synergy for the product being promoted. Further, be sure your rep is aware of your major marketing efforts. Suppliers’ marketing teams are always looking for new and unique ways to promote their brand and products.
Take Advantage of Programs
Finally, call upon your rep to help you take full advantage of any programs they offer. In addition to traditional rebates, supplier companies often offer other partner programs and initiatives usually at no additional cost. These efforts can vary widely, from invitations to participate on steering committees to certification programs and business improvement training.
Make certain you take time with your supplier rep to understand what his company offers and what your interests are in them. You may even find programs that fit the areas of focus that you have outlined on your scorecard.
Remember, your reps are put in place to serve your needs. These are just a few ways to make the most of the time you spend with your supplier reps and leverage those relationships to improve the value of those suppliers and grow your business long term.
Originally posted in Hardware Retailing in Feb., 2014.