Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer magazine. A long-time Harris Teeter executive, Mr. Harris is a former chairman of the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association and a member of the Refrigerated Foods Hall of Fame.
When I started in this business, my boss said, "Johnny, it is important that we have great vendor relations. Does that mean you give them everything they want? No. You keep them all competitive. But with each vendor, go for win-win."
Here are a few things I've learned:
Doing the Hustle: Once, I had a rep for a major company working with me who went out of his way to promote his product and increase sales for both of us. He only had a few years in the business, but he hustled. His competitor, also a major manufacturer, was a veteran who mailed or e-mailed his promotions to me. He'd call only when new products came out and also complain when he got heat because his numbers were down. Now, who do you think I'm more likely to favor?
Manufacturers need to be alert about whether their reps are making the calls, replacing them if necessary. I was never one to tell a manufacturer to replace a rep — that's something they should know by themselves.
Communication Breakdown: In my last couple of years, a lot of brokers and manufacturers started using "team leaders." Reps would call on the category manager and the team leaders called on the vice president every few weeks or once a quarter. Trouble is, the team leaders would take programs to the vice president, but never even tell the category manager about them. It should be obvious that the category manager needs to be in the loop. We need to know if we're suddenly going to be committed to a lot of ads in the summer that will leave us out of budget in November and December!
If you really want win-win, both sides need to meet regularly. At Harris Teeter before I left, there would be annual top-to-top meetings with major vendors at our headquarters, including presidents right on down to reps and category managers. This kept everybody informed, which is crucial since turnover is rapid with both vendor reps and brokers.
Just Can't Get Enough: Finally, I've tried my hand at some sales since retiring. My biggest complaint? The number of VPs and category managers who tell you first thing, "I have a good working relationship with my current supplier, and I don't need to look at anybody else."
I was always trained to meet with everyone, even if I only told the rep that his prices were too high for the market. As a retailer, it's your obligation to see all that's available to grow your business. Don't just say, "Okay, send me some samples." There are companies out there that can help you. Do your job and build relationships. That's what it's all about.
Which of the three issues in retailer/vendor relationships cited by Johnny Harris is most important to resolve?