Salesmanship: Exclusivity and sampling

Home Columns Salesmanship: Exclusivity and sampling

by Warren Tyler

When I sold the last of my retail stores in 1985 the joke among flooring dealers was that any supplier will give exclusivity on a product for 100 miles—straight up.

Of course, if you weren’t important to a manufacturer this was true. When I was a rep for Mohasco, I would place my products in the same market area, but only allowed an individual retailer to sample and sell certain qualities. It just doesn’t make sense for you as a retailer to answer all a customer’s questions, provide her with the proper information so the product was applicable to her unique situation, help her with interior design, measure and layout the job only to have her go down the street taking your hard work and expertise with her and sell you down the river for a few bucks.

Not that manufacturers will ever understand this because they fail to be retail oriented. This is exactly what customers will do in many cases: take our hard work and expertise and run to the next store on the block or, worse yet, run to the box stores. The situation in the marketplace would be intolerable for me as a retailer, because when I owned stores, if a rep placed the line in my market, he would be out of my store. With 300 or more manufacturers, this was easy to do. Even so, not all retailers had this leverage.

Today, with only a few mills, it’s almost impossible for any average retailer to demand exclusivity. Going into stores on a day-to-day basis as I do, I am shocked that every single one has exactly the same ineffective displays and retailers put up with it.

One of the many reasons I am such a champion for the retail groups is the major players will completely re-sample your store with brands no one else has whether you use their name or not. This, of course is a perfect segue into how the industry samples.

Hold and feel

Recently, while attending the Big Bob’s convention, a marketing executive mentioned how you should let customers hold and feel carpet samples, which is great advice. We always observed how customers handled samples, whether or not she put it down or held it or caressed it; in this case we figured she had taken possession. Today, this is impossible thanks to the tiny samples glued on cardboard. It’s almost as if someone thinks of ways to make it more difficult for retailers to sell.

If a product wasn’t important enough to have 27 x 54 samples, it wouldn’t get in any of my stores. Naturally, the large sample sizes made any carpet look thicker and more luxurious so when she saw a deck board at another store samples felt thin and cheap. We also found it much easier to cover manufacturers’ labels with our own, something every retailer should do but can’t without redesigning the entire display.

Most small retailers believe that the broader the selection and lower the price, the higher the sales. Believe it or not, manufacturers have bought into what the average retailer believes which is why they are average, based on the hundreds of tiny squares of carpet they sell retailers.

My retail guru, the late Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus fame, said: “The broader the selection, the lower the price, the lower the sales…However the more concentrated the selection, the higher the price, the higher the sales.” Sears, at the time, the world’s largest carpet dealer showed only 28 qualities. It’s how well you display, never how much.

Manufacturers should be hiring retail expertise in order to give retailers what they should have, not what they think they want.

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