Power in Partnerships: The Supplier / Retailer Relationship

Alex Parker

Retail isn’t just about moving boxes because the boxes quickly stop moving if your retailers can’t sell them. That happens for many reasons, but lack of support from manufacturers and distributors has the potential to leave a retailer with the wrong stock, or products that don’t capture the end-user’s attention.

To supply product across the E.U. like any other market you have to have local knowledge and understand the way in which the market works. So I asked an established distributor and a similarly respected retailer about their views on the supplier/retailer relationship.

Tony Gonzales of leading U.K. distributor Net 1 On 1 explained how they believe their attention to the needs of their retailers keeps product moving.

“As one of the biggest adult distributors in the U.K. we aim to support our customers in every way possible, as this ultimately makes good business sense to us. If a store is on the high street, we make sure that they are visited regularly by our sales manager, shown new products due to be released, are offered POS and merchandising opportunities to help generate interest and revenue, and will work closely with them to suggest products which might work best in their store.”

Of course in 2015 the high street is only part of the story with a large proportion of adult retail sales being made online. So what is Net 1 On 1’s approach to e-sales? “Similarly, we tailor our support to our ecommerce customers too, with technical support, marketing materials, live stock feeds, and excellent delivery options. Above all, if our customers ask us for help in any way, we make sure that we can deliver a tailored solution, and if liaising more directly with our suppliers for extended customer support is needed, then we’ll do that too! We have also adapted our buying strategy to make sure that we take on as many unique and innovative brands as possible, with brands which may have been out of reach for many of our customers due to expensive logistics now available and at highly competitive prices.”

Perhaps most importantly having a support team who work in the E.U. makes for better support? “We spend a lot of time researching the E.U. and U.K. markets and keeping an eye on industry and consumer trends, allowing us to respond effectively and provide our customers with the best products, brands and service. This is evidenced in the new 1on1 Wholesale website, due to launch before the ETO 2015 show, which will provide a whole host of solutions for our customers including: ordering in Euros, an online marketing portal, and even white-label website packages. This project was fundamentally built on customer feedback and needs, so we are expecting a positive response and streamlined business transactions.”

Distribution is only half the story, so how does retailer Nice ‘N’ Naughty view the support they get from distributors and manufacturers?

“Over the past few years it has become increasingly important to have support and training on new products launched within our industry. Products have become far more sophisticated and multi-functional, and therefore product knowledge is important when selling to customers. Many suppliers understand the importance of training and support and have increased the level of support they offer.”

How do you feel products are presented in your bricks and mortar stores? “We feel branding and POS is vital to the success of a product. The vast choice of products available in the U.K. makes it difficult for products to stand out against big branded products unless it has brand awareness and prominent POS to support each of the displays in the stores. Many of the U.K. distributors supply an excellent range of POS which they are happy to brand Nice ‘n’ Naughty to personalize it at our request.”

Interestingly Trish said “many” not all distributors deliver good POS. “The POS can vary greatly and this is often down to number of products within the brand and the manufacturer of the brand. We find that products that do not have a high level of branding or POS often ‘get lost’ amongst stronger brands within the stores.”

So do the newer products offer better retail support? “Nice ‘n’ Naughty have found that there has been a greater importance placed on branding and POS in the last five years which has reflected in sales of strong brand products such as LELO, Electrastim and ID Lubricants. Our relationship with suppliers has enabled the Nice ‘n’ Naughty stores to work closely to promote brands and specific products which have been linked to staff incentives to drive sales across all of our 11 stores and the NiceNNaughty.co.uk online store.”

I asked, if it is preferable to work with distributors in the E.U.? “Nice ‘n’ Naughty deal with U.K. and European distributors rather than directly with the U.S. With 11 stores and the website, the U.K. and European distributors are able to ship direct to each store and centralize invoicing to our accounts department. When we have dealt with the U.S. directly we have the issues of having to consolidate our orders to one delivery and this results in Nice ‘n’ Naughty having to distribute the stock across the U.K. We also have to take the shipping costs and import duties into account when placing orders and often need to consider a 8-12 week lead time which can prove difficult with 11 stores all selling at different rates. The U.K. and European distributors are very supportive and many are introducing the manufacturers to our sales team to ensure comprehensive training is offered.”

It seems that training of staff and support are key to success? “Nice ‘n’ Naughty have had great support from all of our suppliers, we meet regularly to discuss how we can work together to improve sales, which often results in new POS and retraining of staff. The success of a product or brand in the Nice ‘n’ Naughty stores is often a reflection of the relationship the staff have with the sales person that visits the stores to conduct training and/or introduce new products. It is important that a product is supported and does not sit on the shelf gathering dust, if staff do not have the confidence to sell a product due to lack of support we often find that it will fail in Nice ‘n’ Naughty stores. I think training videos and hands-on product training is essential and I am pleased many suppliers offer this as part of their service.”

Who has been a stand-out support success recently for Nice ‘n’ Naughty? “It is very difficult to single out a supplier or manufacturers, but we have seen a huge increase in sales of the We-Vibe range since Leigh has visited all the Nice ‘n’ Naughty training and is offering full POS and brand awareness to all our staff.”

It’s heartening to learn that not only have both retailers and suppliers recognized the importance of supporting the final link in the supply chain before the end user gets their hands on the products but that the resultant symbiosis means better service for the consumer.

Alex Parker is an adult product consultant, journalist and erotic author. Since 2005 he has worked within the adult novelty and adult movie industry as reviewer, correspondent and advisor to some of Europe’s largest manufacturers and distributors.