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State of Retail: What could suppliers do to make your life easier?

Published April 12, 2022

A version of this feature ran in the April issue of BRAIN.

BOULDER, Colo. (BRAIN) —  For our April magazine edition, we asked our State of Retail panel members: What could suppliers do to make your life easier, and what are best-in-class suppliers doing that sets them apart?

CINCINNATI: David Bordewisch, manager Biowheels

David Bordewisch

Employing good outside sales reps is critical for best-in-class suppliers. The reps provide crucial communication regarding inventory, orders, delivery dates, warranties, and accounting by answering texts, emails and phone calls promptly. They also track down shipped or lost items and offer alternatives when applicable. The ability for me to place orders and receive accurate delivery dates is so important. We have grown a lot the last three years and plan on growing more. Our outside reps have been a huge help. Other best practices are having easy-to-use B2B sites that show accurate current availability of product (or anticipated restocking dates), and correct shipping and billing information. Also, having good phone reception if inside reps work from home, and always answering the phone instead of referring me to numbers that go to full voice-mail boxes or hang up. I cannot stress this enough: lack of effective communication from a supplier makes it too hard to do business and causes me to take our dollars elsewhere.

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif.: Linda Coburn, co-owner Pedego 101 Electric Bikes

Linda Coburn

Removing barriers to efficiency would go a long way to making life easier for us. For example, we had a product reserved that was coming out of a warehouse in Nevada, and we also had some other items that we wanted to order from that warehouse. We could not combine the two orders together because "the system" didn't allow it. 

 I'd like to just give a shout out to the folks who've spent the last two years dealing with all of the "When is it going to get here?" questions with grace and humor. Our biggest challenge has been getting, well, everything. The suppliers we are happiest with have worked hard to create systems that allow us to place orders for items that are out of stock and give us some idea of when they'll be available. I would praise J&B Importers especially for how quickly it has adjusted and got this up and running after the pandemic started.

FRAMINGHAM, Mass.: Francisco Cornelio, manager

Francisco Cornelio

One thing that would make life easier would be if suppliers had a better form of communication when items come to be available. I believe the bicycle industry suppliers have a lot to learn from the car parts suppliers' style of communication. The major bike industry suppliers all have good practices and “OK” things. Hawley’s website is very hard to navigate and it crashes a lot on our iPad. Quality Bicycle Products got better at posting new arrivals but its site still needs lots of work. J&B Importers is the best so far in providing supplies on-demand and communicating directly by phone when items on your wish list become available. Cyclone is extremely slow, but very clear of what it has or doesn’t.

ALTO, Ga.: Joe Elam, owner Habersham Bicycles

Joe Elam

As a longtime retailer, I know our industry was spoiled by just-in-time inventory. It is a big challenge for smaller shops and a huge opportunity for large chains and suppliers with direct-to-consumer models. The biggest thing suppliers need to work on is more accurate ETAs. It is very difficult to work with customer demands when we can't even give them a timeline for availability.

 In this era of DTC sales, best-in-class suppliers operate like Giant Bicycles, which shares the same margin for DTC sales as in-store sales, and usually posts the margin credit within 24 hours of pick up. Giant also shares margin for gear sales that ship directly to customers. Specialized, on the other hand, shares nothing with dealers if something is shipped directly to the consumer, it only shares 50% of margin for DTC bike sales, and it doesn't post credits promptly.

FOLSOM, Calif.: Erin Gorrell, owner Folsom Bike

Erin Gorrell

The best-in-class suppliers are providing live inventory updates with ETAs on backorders as well as letting dealers place items on backorder. This enables our team to give solid information to customers looking to place a special order. Additionally, best-in-class suppliers label the products we order with the pricing we have given to them. This enables the receiving department to be more efficient with their time.

It would make our life easier and be more environmentally friendly if suppliers could be more conscientious about packaging products with recyclable materials. Another trend we have been seeing is that unnecessarily oversized packaging is being used for small items when they could have been coupled with other items and still be received undamaged. I think all of us need to be more aware and make changes to minimize impact on the environment in a negative way.

PORTLAND, Ore.: Tom Martin, sole proprietor TomCat Bikes

Tom Martin

As a small shop, I don’t have much influence. I’m at the whims of legacy bicycle corporations who necessarily look out for their number ones, not a 300-square foot, repair-focused shop. It's clear the direction the industry is going. What it does in terms of sales channel is mostly irrelevant for my business. If suppliers are embracing direct-to-consumer sales, they should be honest with the retailers they are cutting out of the loop and be prepared for blowback. I do think that all reps can do a better job of getting caught in the over-promising/under-delivering situation due to company policy misunderstandings. My favorite rep, Lonnie from J&B, lets me know when I’m going to have a bad time with certain products and is great about suggesting alternatives.

BENTONVILLE, Ark.: Jannie Fitzgerald, co-founder of Buddy Pegs Family Ride

Jannie Fitzgerald

We really appreciate suppliers that communicate information and weekly inventory updates because it makes planning easier. Some suppliers are tough to get any answers from. A second game-changing practice is being able to reserve items rather than just being on an “item stock notification” list. Some suppliers are allowing dealers to just reserve stock in advance and have it ship automatically when it’s available.

One area that is tough for us is this expectation of taking inventory whenever it is allocated. It’s a bit stressful to look at a storage room full of inventory while it’s still dumping snow outside. In the past, planning and actually receiving shipments when scheduled corresponded to high traffic times of the year when the inventory would start to move pretty quickly. These days, you really have no idea when product will arrive. Therefore, it would be great if suppliers can push out payment terms longer and give better projections for allocations. 

HATTIESBURG, Miss.: Jenny Moore, co-owner/manager Moore’s Bicycle Shop

Jenny Moore

We have three main suppliers, and they each operate differently. One supplier stands out from the others in two ways: The first is when a backorder part is available, I am immediately notified and the part is held for me until I confirm that I still want the item. (Other suppliers send a notification but do not hold the item, so by the time I get to my computer to submit the order, it's already out of stock again.) The second way is that this distributor also offers 24-hour shipping, which helps our repairs stay on track if special parts are needed. 

 Overall, I am happy with our suppliers; however, I have one supplier that often shows “out of stock” on an item through the dealer site that is actually available through its website as a customer-direct option. This is frustrating because several of these items that are only available to consumers through the consumer website are items I've had on backorder for quite a while.

CHAMPLIN, Minn.: Pam Sayler, owner Trailhead Cycling

Pam Sayler

I sure prefer vendors who don't compete with me. Also, communication is key. Having accurate information online and getting consistent messaging from in-person or on-phone staff gives us a foundation of trust, so we can make buying decisions that are best for our brand. The best-in-class suppliers have an inside person who answers the phone, can answer questions, and is empowered to resolve problems.

Pam Sayler.
Topics associated with this article: From the Magazine

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