Manufacturers, distributors, and their vendors’ product release schedules don’t align with the schedules of dealers, and it’s a problem our industry needs to address. While dealers are on the front lines selling products, the manufacturers and distributors are not in the same season as we are.
In the decking industry, when a sales rep visits in late February, March, or even April, and they want me to buy into a line of decking, they’ve already missed an opportunity. I’ve made those buying decisions already back in October, November, and December. But because I already have a relationship with the manufacturer or distributor, I might still buy some of the products. So I buy their decking, but I already know that it’s not going to be a successful line because everybody else has already made their buying decision, and the manufacturer or distributor isn’t going to provide enough support behind it.
Another thing I’m seeing more often now are companies coming in during the summer months and saying they’re going to drop a product line. They’ll say it was a bad decision to take a line on. Maybe they don’t know it, but their timing couldn’t be worse for us dealers. Too many times, decisions made at a manufacturer’s corporate office don’t take into account the bind that decision puts retailers in.
If a vendor is visiting our stores in the summer months, it should be just to make sure that the commitments that they’ve made to us are actually being handled. They should be coming in and making sure that they’re keeping us supplied and keeping promises that they’ve made. As we go into our vendor review periods later in the year, the attentiveness of the vendor reps during the summer months will be taken into account when we make decisions that could ultimately lead to switching distributors.
They shouldn’t be coming in talking about a new line of products for this season; they should be making sure they’re keeping us up to date on their current products that we’re selling. If they do want to talk about new products, it should be a forward-looking conversation about how that product will sell for me next year. Under no circumstances am I going to shift gears and sell a new product mid-season for this current year. It just doesn’t work like that. There is so much planning that goes into what decking we’re going to sell:
Displays have to be put up, employee education, literature and samples in place, advertising, and so on. There are a lot of good decking companies out there, but some of them work with distribution systems that are not doing their dealers any favors. I once had a company discontinue a line of decking for which I had purchased and stocked special fasteners. I had worked ahead and built displays featuring these products and then they were pulled from the market. It affects my planning and my ability to meet the expectations of my customers, which are the end-user of the manufacturers’ products.
A lot of vendors, when they come in, are not prepared to talk about next year’s product release schedules. The salesman likely doesn’t even know if he’ll have the same job next year. Management keeps new products a secret, so the salesman won’t even know what will be carried. I really hope that manufacturers will see that by the time summer comes around, most retailers are already looking forward to the fall when they will start placing orders for next year. Manufacturers and dealers should be working together right now discussing next year’s product lines.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a very select few larger companies that are doing this, but it’s not being relayed down to the dealer level very well.
I know that this creates problems for the manufacturers and distributors as well. Without properly educated retailers, these manufacturers are forced to drop lines altogether because they introduced them to the market too late and then don’t understand why they’re not selling. Discontinuing lines only adds to the stress level of the dealer, who is left with inventory on a line that won’t be stocked the coming year. The worst case is when a company that doesn’t want to be left holding inventory stops manufacturing a product line and doesn’t tell the dealer. Then the dealer gets stuck with either obsolete inventory, or out-of-stock inventory, both of which lead to unhappy customers.
By adjusting their product release schedules (even if they still need to be somewhat secretive within the distribution channel for competitive purposes) manufacturers and their distributors can better utilize the boots-on-the-ground knowledge that retailers provide, and together the entire distribution process can be more efficient and successful.