Keeping Pace With The Evolving Market Spells ‘Success’ For Distributors
Change is hard to accept. It means adjustment. Shifting. Re-organization. Cost. And that can be jarring and, in turn, a big headache when you’re comfortably set in your ways as a business and, supposedly, operating a tight ship that’s, one would think, running a smooth course. But in this ever-changing world — and that especially includes the endlessly shifting business world, be it adult or mainstream — if you don’t adapt, then you’ll surely die, by being left behind. Or dumped along the wayside.
That stated, distributors — the competitive ones (which is really just a euphemism for “the smart ones”) — fully understand that to remain successful, it’s imperative that you adapt to the market in order to fully meet the needs of your customer: namely, the retailer. And that includes everything from maintaining a wide, competitively priced selection of products; to providing a comprehensive training of retailers, so as to move those same products out the door; to embracing technological advances that keep everyone up-to-date and (as always) competitive, ultimately leading to the success of retailers and, in turn, the distributors.
Indeed, as the 21st century advances, adult distributors realize more and more that their relationship with retailers must be closer than ever to insure the healthy thriving of both parties.
Parts and Service (Though Not Necessarily in That Order)
According to Erin Ramirez, social media expert at distributor Nalpac Ltd., it’s all about service — the distributor, that is, providing extensive and superlative assistance to the retailer.
“That’s definitely the number one request which Nalpac gets from retailers,” Ramirez stresses. “Merchandizing services. Technology services. Customer service. Anything service related. Retailers want more hands-on service, and Nalpac strives to provide a high level of customer service. And now with Tracy Tinsley added as our new business development coordinator at Nalpac, we’ll be better able to address customer needs and provide the hands-on friendly service our retailers really want.”
But it also comes down to the product.
That is, if you don’t have the goods that the retailers (and ultimately, of course, the customers) want, then what do you have? Not much. Consequently, distributors grasp the importance of not only having a well-stocked selection of best-selling products (and being, basically, a one-stop shop for retailers), but also of being hip to the latest product trends, with, at present, the “Fifty Shades of Grey” phenomenon still being quite the craze.
“In general, anything pertaining to beginner BDSM is a hot trend right now due to the ‘Fifty Shades’ mania,” notes Shannon Barfoot of Pink Cherry, a Canadian distributor also serving the U.S. market.
“Just prior to the release of the books, this category was already trending and consumers were becoming more adventurous. But the books really took it to another level, especially with mainstream consumers. It’s opened a lot of doors for manufacturers and distributors alike.
“Kegel balls quickly became one of the hottest commodities as a result of the ‘Fifty Shades’ book trilogy,” adds Barfoot, “and are an essential product for every manufacturer to have on hand. Fifty Shades Official Pleasure Collection has been strong, and we expect it will continue to be so once the movie hits theatres. Additionally, other brands such as Pipedream Fetish Fantasy, Sportsheets S&M, and Scandal by CalExotics lead the pack.”
Inga Van Riper, brand strategist at distributor HoneysPlace.com, notes some of the highly valid patterns which retailers exhibit pertaining to requesting merchandise.
“Customers are asking for the products that they see on TV or read about in a magazine,” Van Riper points out. “Brand Names such as LELO, The Original Magic Wand, and Jimmyjane are some of our best-selling brands. And diversification of our product selection has created new popular brands such as Shirley of Hollywood and Fever Lingerie.
Pink Cherry’s Shannon Barfoot fully understands the importance of having a wide selection of products.
To a point.
“There’s obviously a large pool of us playing in the same sandbox, so it’s important to diversify,” Barfoot acknowledges, “and we do want our selection to be vast — but not overwhelming, and that’s to ensure that purchasing through us online is efficient and enjoyable.”
The seemingly non-stop arrival of new adult products, however, can certainly be a bit disconcerting for distributors. With over 20,000 SKUs and expanding, the adult novelty industry is consistently getting showered, and downright inundated with new products.
In turn, with the possibility of the retailer becoming lost in a seemingly endless sea of merchandise, Andy Green, president of distributor XGen Products, is in agreement with Barfoot.
“We’re one step removed from our products ultimately reaching the consumer’s hands,” Green points out, “so inventory projections can be challenging. We’ve, therefore, chosen to keep a narrow focus on our catalog selection, sticking to products we’re confident will move consistently.”
“Just like any industry,” continues Green, “most retailers are concerned with the basics: ‘do you have what my customers want; how quickly can we get it; and what’s my cost?’ And because our goal is to go beyond the basics, we’ve become specialists in answering the question ‘how easily can I sell this product?’ Because our catalog is focused on many exclusive brands, we can proudly say that the goods we offer are all designed to sell easily in any retail setting.”
Hot for Teacher
And because of a slew of unavoidable market conditions (the rapidly changing economy, increased competition from manufacturers / online retailers / other distributors, as well as some retailers themselves competing with online pricing), distributors now find it mandatory to work extraordinarily closely with retailers to meet the latter’s needs.
In turn, knowledge through education is a key factor to success.
“Retailers are definitely requiring more attention because of the increasingly competitive market,” states communications expert Catherine Korfel of Eldorado Trading Company. “They’re asking for resources that give them a competitive advantage. Most commonly asked for are product testers, educational resources, support for their ladies’ nights, and staff training…anything to better educate them to, in turn, better educate the consumer.”
Inga Van Riper of Honeysplace.com fully agrees with Korfel about the importance of consistently supplying the retailer with knowledge.
“Our customers want to know about the products before they bring them into the store,” says Van Riper, “and they look to Honey’s Place as the expert on how to sell, market, and overall promote the latest and best brands. Keeping track and explaining to our customers what the best-selling items are in their area helps them make very educated purchasing decisions.”
And to that ‘academic’ end, veteran distributor Williams Trading Company provides a superb training service to retailers through their “Williams Trading University,” a free e-learning program focused on selling techniques and product knowledge for all store associates. Retailers simply resister at the specified Williams Trading website, where there are over 38 e-learning courses (from their sponsoring partners), with two to four new courses added per month.
“This is on-line only,” Williams Trading director of sales and marketing Scott H. Dantis proudly states, “allowing retailers to train at any time, using tablets, mobile phones, or in-store PCs. The courses are five to seven minutes each, with a short quiz at the end; the best part being that the retailers participate in a sample program. And we’re pleased to report, as well, that we’ve certified over 5,000 associates on the floor with our e-training in just four short months.”
Techno Matters — and How!
And speaking of technology, many distributors foresee plenty of changes occurring in this area in the years (months, even!) to come.
Notes Inga Van Riper of Honeysplace.com: “Customers expect us to innovate with respect to purchasing and order processing, giving them a more personalized experience while shopping online for products. We also expect to see a dramatic increase in ordering via mobile devices in the next few years, because it’s faster and more efficient for our customers.”
Erin Ramirez of Nalpac Ltd. sees distributors increasing diversification in terms of providing services for two separate, distinct customer entities: Internet retailers and brick-and-mortar stores.
“Online shopping is a growing segment, and it has been for years,” Ramirez is quick to point out. “Big online businesses such as Amazon and E-bay are making it easier, now more than ever, for people to have their own online business. Consequently, we see a change occurring in the way that we’ll need to service both the online and the brick-and-mortar retailers differently. The online business owner might request more technological customer service requests such as how-to videos and demonstrations online. The brick-and-mortar retailers will want more hands-on experience, which is where retailer training comes in, with our new business development coordinator providing merchandising techniques to retailers that will help them provide a welcoming destination for their customers.
“With online business you’re selling the convenience of anonymity and better prices. With retailer stores you’re selling the concept of a knowledgeable staff and the overall experience the customer has at the shop.”
Looking—and Listening!—for Success
Also of key importance in the distributor/retailer relationship is the former listening closely to the latter’s feedback.
“We’re constantly updating and upgrading our systems to make them faster and easier for our retailers to use,” says Pink Cherry’s Shannon Barfoot, “most often with the best ideas coming from retailers themselves! Since we’re all working toward the same target, communication with retailers has been essential in building a successful distribution website. Their feedback has been invaluable. Forming mutually successful partnerships over the long term is the most gratifying aspect of this business. When our customers are successful, we feel that we’ve accomplished our goal.”
Success? That’s definitely what it’s all about— for both parties.
Says Catherine Korfel of Eldorado Trading Company: “It’s rewarding when retailers come for help and come back telling us how our advice helped them increase sales by such and such percent. Seeing them grow and us growing with them is very rewarding. The best part about working with retailers is the relationships we build with them and the trust we establish.”
Erin Ramirez of Nalpac wholeheartedly concurs with Korfel.
“Watching them succeed, that’s the best part about working with retailers. It’s enjoyable seeing them get excited about new ideas and new products. It’s refreshing watching retail staff’s expressions when they’re sampling things for the first time. That’s when you know that you did something right.”