While not matching the glitz of the Oscars, many major retailers and regionals often take the early months of the year to honor their top suppliers.
Some do it publicly with press releases and big gala events with drinks and speeches. Others do it privately and focus on a few select honorees.
A particular focus for winning appears to be service issues, whether timely delivery or quality control. Sales performance, whether for the past year or for an extended period, also appears to be a critical measure. Other issues important to the store, such as community service or sustainability, are also honored.
Walmart appears to hand out several awards across categories. In a press release earlier this week, Intradeco Apparel touted that it received a 2012 supplier of the year award from Walmart in recognition of its efforts "in execution, social compliance, merchandising, quality, environmental responsibility, and sustainable business model to bring the best value to the consumer."
REI is among retailers handing out a single, coveted "Vendor Partner of the Year" award each year. For 2012, the honor went to Brooks, the running footwear brand. Said Lee Fromson, SVP, REI merchandising, in a statement, "Aside from providing ongoing program support and aligning with REI's mission, they've brought our customers new ways to experience lightweight running and new products they love."
The outdoor retailer's vendor awards program was established in 1993 and retail associates vote on the slate of nominees. Awards also salute one vendor across its three merchandising divisions — camp/travel, actionsports and outdoorwear — "for their efforts to build a strategic and successful relationship focused on meeting member and customer needs, and bring quality, innovation, outdoor stewardship and performance to the industry."
Skullcandy, the lifestyle headphones supplier that has recently seen its sales slow and CEO exit, appears to now have a mixed view around such award wins. In April 2012, it bragged about being named "Vendor of the Year" by Target, Toys"R"Us and Fred Meyer. Target's was the second in four years.
On its recent fourth-quarter conference call, Rick Alden, founder and interim CEO, joked that in the firm's earlier years, "We didn't even know retailers had words like 'Vendor of the Year' until we started stacking trophies on the shelf."
But he implied that many of the awards stemmed from an intensified focus on quality control, sourcing and delivery that may have taken management's eyes off the marketing and product innovation that first established the brand in the marketplace. He added, "Some of the products, branding and demand creation elements of the business were less of a focus at the sacrifice of continuing to build a best-in-class, operationally bulletproof-proof company."
Between sales growth and service excellence, what breakdown should retailers be using to bestow awards on its vendors?