Are Your Suppliers Letting You Down on the Web?

If, as I suspect, you’re a web-savvy entrepreneur, (If you’re not, how did you find this post?) it’s in your best interest to find the manufacturers who think the same way that you do.  The fact that you’re a blog reader tells me that you know how to find relevant information and that you know what to do with it.

Whether we like it or not, (and we should like it) the way business is done in the US and in the entire world is changing.  You can pretend that you’re customers can’t find the lowest price on anything with just a few minutes of web surfing, but you’d be sadly mistaken.  You can assume that your customers have to leave their homes to shop, but you’d be very wrong.  Maybe you don’t think that eBay and Craigslist are your competitors, but I promise you that they are.

Wise manufacturers are working with their dealers to provide them with the best, most up-to-date tools and information.  We’re in the midst of an economic crisis yet many retailers are thriving.  Often, but not always, these dealers are supported by like-thinking vendors.  Some dealers thrive in spite of their vendors, not because of them.

By way of disclaimer, I don’t claim to be the most knowledgeable person on the subject of social media, but I have been a blogger, podcaster, and forum administrator for quite a while.  Between this blog and its predecessor, I’m approaching my 900th post.  I regularly follow dozens of blogs and podcasts.  Obviously I’ve invested a lot of time and effort in providing information to small business owners.  I guess that, since you’re reading this, you must find some value in the content of Mining the Store.

Sadly, there seem to be a lot of manufacturers who just don’t get it.  Twenty-first century business owners want and need help.  The climate is just too hostile for each of us to reinvent the wheel every day.  Likewise, very few suppliers have all the answers.  (even if they think they do)

The key to success in the year 2010 is community; communities of people with common interests who get together online to share information.  Whether it’s politics, sports, health matters, or business, anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can find communities of interest where any question can find its answer.

A wise supplier will get involved in the communities that affect his/her market and become a contributor.  Simply lurking, seeing what people are saying, is critical but it’s far from sufficient.  The days of a company looking down at its customers, considering them necessary evils, are over.  There are too many other vendors who treat their dealers as partners in the supply chain.  They will be successful.  Make no mistake, the same rules apply to retailers and their communities.

The bottom line here is that you have to hold your vendors feet to the fire.  Demand that they give you the help that you need or you’ll take your business elsewhere.  I don’t want to generalize too much, but there are vendors whose sales are down who actually blame their dealers.  They have such a perfect product and such infallible marketing programs that the problem couldn’t possibly lie with them.  Therefor the fault must be yours.  One sales manager actually wondered on an industry forum why “the better dealers” aren’t participating.  Maybe it’s because “the better vendors” aren’t participating?  I’m just sayin’…….

I’m not advocating for insurrection here.  But I am suggesting that you insist that your suppliers give you the help you need to move the product through the marketing chain to your/their customers.  History has shown, even with the help of the Internet, that it’s very difficult for a vendor to go directly to the consumer.  They need you more than you need them.  If they aren’t giving you what you need, they’re not doing their job.

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Now These are Funny!

OK, it’s Saturday and I thought we’d have a little fun.  Here are two pictures emailed to me by a friend.  I’ll let you insert your own captions.

NEVER Prejudge a Customer!

running shoeThe story you’re about to read is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

I think most of us learn this lesson the hard way, but maybe today we can save you from yourself.

Mary is very overweight.  But she’s working hard to get into shape.  In fact, she’s training for a 5K run.  The other day she went into a large sporting goods store, not necessarily a big box, but at least a medium box.  She was looking for a pair of running shoes.

I won’t call this guy a “salesman” so I guess we’ll refer to him as a SDRG (shoe department retail guy).  Anyway, the SDRG approaches Mary and asks if he can help her.  (Not the best way to approach a customer, but in this case it’s the high point of the conversation.)

Mary answers that she’s looking for some shoes.  SDRG answers, “Mam, these are running shoes.”

Mary answered, “Yes, I know.”

SDRG, “No ma’am, these are RUNNING shoes.”   In other words, “Lady, the buffet line shoes are over there.”  The meaning wasn’t lost on Mary.

She answered, “I know these are running shoes.  I’m training for a 5K run and I’d like to buy some shoes.  In fact, I will buy some shoes, but not from this store.”

She went on to explain what SDRG could do with his shoes.  Since this is a family blog, I’ll leave it to your imagination.

The point is, you can NEVER prejudge a customer.  Appearances can be deceiving and relying on something so notoriously fallible as a first impression can lead to a lost sale or worse.

Mary told this story to my wife who works for a weight loss company.  I know she plans to repeat Mary’s story to all of her meetings this week and I doubt that she’ll disguise the name of the store.  By the end of the week the story will have gone viral in the community.  There’s no telling how much damage will be done to the store’s reputation because one employee decided that a well-fed lady couldn’t possibly be interested in running shoes.

Now That’s Funny!

As I’ve said many times, this isn’t a political blog.  However, I think all small business owners have an interest in politics.  Here’s a video from Ray Stevens that’s funny no matter what side you’re on.  Enjoy.

Check out the Ray Stevens web site for more funny stuff and to buy the audio version of  We the People.

New Year’s Resolutions-Better Late than Never

One of my resolutions for 2010 is to not procrastinate.  Sadly, just thirteen days into the new year I’ve already realized that this may be more of a challenge than I thought.  That having been said, I was catching up on my blog reading today and I came across a great post by Annita Brazzes on her On the Job blog called  Eat Your Salad First and Other Career Strategies

On the subject of New Year’s resolutions Anita offers this sound advice:

The key is not being too ambitious. After all, most people are doing more work than ever, and you don’t need to add to the pressure. Don’t make such sweeping plans that you would have to clone yourself a dozen times in order to accomplish a goal. At the same time, don’t try to tackle too many things at one time.

To get us off to a good start, she suggests these five tips:

  1. Get more organized.
  2. Improve skills.
  3. Network.
  4. Focus on quality.  (My favorite)
  5. Take the high road.

Take a few minutes to check out Anita’s blog and get the detail of the five suggestions.  Meanwhile, I think I’ll go have some lettuce and an Almond Joy.  Then I’ll get back to reading the 8.117 posts sitting in my blog reader.

So You Think You Know How to Motivate?

dan pinkThanks to my Irish friend, Krishna De, for posting on her interview with Dan Pink, author of a new book called Drive. To make a long story short, pink believes that the old “carrot and stick” theory works in only a limited number of cases and may, in fact, reduce productivity, and he has scientific evidence to back up his claim.

Of course Pink has a solution to the problem which he explains in the book.

Check out Krishna’s post, especially the eighteen-minute video of Pink speaking on the subject.

Consumer Electronics–Good news?

In my younger days I was a regular attendee at the International Consumer Electronics Show, both as an exhibitor and as a buyer.  At the time it was the biggest trade show in the world.  It may still be, but I’m not positive of that.  At any rate, it’s definitely one of the biggest.

An AP story is reporting that it will be smaller this year than it was in 2009.  But the article goes on to point out that pre-Christmas consumer electronics sales in the United States were up 5.9% from the same period last year.  That’s not bad for products that aren’t exactly necessities.  In fact, following a successful November-December exhibitors were signing up for the show as late as last week.

Always looking for good economic news, I’d say that this is a good sign for 2010.  Floor space at CES isn’t cheap.  Suppliers scrambling for floor space the last week of December is surely a good sign.  It will be interesting to see how other shows fare in the coming months.