Practical Ecommerce

Supplier Representatives Can Help Online Retailers Grow

It is an important milestone for online retailers when they graduate from ordering solely and often blindly with wholesale catalogs or on B2B websites to working with a skilled supplier representative who has the product knowledge and connections to help the retailer grow.

Many, even most, new ecommerce retailers order the goods they sell online from manufacturers or distributors. Perhaps they have printed wholesale catalogs and price sheets or maybe they log into a dealer portal and place orders online.

These catalogs or websites may provide excellent product descriptions, sales, or sell-through averages — or even suggest initial buys. The materials can be helpful. But when an retail ecommerce business starts to sell a relatively significant amount of a vendor’s products that retailer will have access to a supplier (distributor or manufacturer) representative who can provide additional product insights, access to cooperative advertising or marketing, help with content marketing, or even help with managing returns or accepting defective items.

The ecommerce retailers with access to a supplier representative will still have catalogs to look at and wholesale websites to order from, but they will have a lot more too.

… when an retail ecommerce business starts to sell a relatively significant amount of a vendor’s products that retailer will have access to a supplier (distributor or manufacturer) representative …

Help With Product Selection

“Dennis is a great rep. One of the best in the business,” said a tall, 60-ish purchasing director to his companions as they walked out of the Denver Mart building on 58th Avenue in Denver, Colorado. This purchasing director, who has a booming radio announcer’s voice, and the buyers and marketers walking with him were leaving the venue after the first day of the Western and English Sales Association’s (WESA’s) January 2016 show.

The show is a place for retail buyers to meet with dozens of manufacturers to preview new lines and talk business for the upcoming season or year.

“Dennis doesn’t just come in and show you what’s new,” the purchasing director explained. “He has it all lined out for the buyer. Here are the products you currently buy. Here are the products he thinks you should add. Here are the products he thinks you should drop. And here are the ten reasons why he made each of his recommendations.”

A supplier representative’s recommendations can make a significant impact on business. Dennis, the representative described above, sells boots, belts, and clothing accessories, as do many of the representatives at the WESA show.

But an example from another industry might help make this point.

A retailer buyer in the northwestern United States recently met with a representative for a power-tool maker. The retailer was considering bringing in a line of battery-powered tools that the representative’s company had been making and selling for a few years. Everything about the tools seemed like they would sell well. If the retailer had been a smaller company, the buyer would have placed and order and put the tools for sale.

But the manufacturer’s representative suggested that the retailer wait. In just a few months, the manufacturer was going to replace the battery system it used for these tools. The current models would become closeout items, not a long-term product to carry. Without the representative relationship this retail would have made a poor purchase.

Advertising and Promotional Support

Supplier representatives are the gateway to cooperative advertising dollars, promotional calendars, and special buying opportunities.

When an ecommerce retailer moves into a relationship with a supplier representative, there should be new access to advertising and promotional support. This support generally takes three forms.

  • Access to cooperative (co-op) money. Manufacturers will often reimburse retailers for a portion of the money spent on advertising the manufacturer’s products. This can included being paid to feature a manufacturer’s products in email marketing or via pay-per-click advertising.
  • Previews of national advertising campaigns. Supplier representatives will frequently share information about when the manufacturer will run national or regional advertising campaigns, allowing retailers to piggyback, if you will, on these ads and promotions.
  • Special purchase opportunities. Supplier representatives can often help retailers “buy into” a national campaign, meaning they will offer product discounts for retailers to stock up on select items before the manufacturer advertises those items nationally.

Access to this information and special buying opportunities can be a significant help for retailer, and taking advantage of these should lead to growth.

Help With Content Marketing

Supplier representatives are an excellent resource for content marketers. During a meeting with a silver-jewelry manufacturer at the aforementioned WESA show, the conversation turned to how one explains the difference between a $20 pair of earrings and a $300 pair of earrings. What makes one so much more valuable?

Lamenting that it was, indeed a challenge, especially online, the supplier representative mentioned that they used to have a “university program” for brick-and-mortar sellers. This program was a series of printed modules that explained the history of silversmithing, described manufacturing processes, and went into detail about the differences in jewelry.

The materials were a goldmine for content marketing.

Using the information as a base, the supplier representative agreed to appear in a few videos with the retailer, potentially making for some compelling content that the retailer can use on its website and distribute via YouTube or Facebook.

The materials were a goldmine for content marketing.

Help With Returns, Defective Merchandise

If all of the benefits of working with a supplier representative are not enough, these vendor partners should also be a retailer’s advocate for returning products, dealing with defective merchandise, or even buying back products that sold poorly.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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