2016 Retail Report: Partners In Prosperity

Genie Davis

Manufacturers, retailers and distributors. Put them all together and in sync, and you have endless possibilities for successful product sales. Just how do manufacturers support the rest of this important selling trio? From communication and feedback to promotional materials, manufacturers weigh in on this invaluable support system.

Angela Lieben, marketing manager for Liberator in Atlanta, describes retailers and distributors as an essential part of making any product line a success, and says that communicating effectively with them is a large part of the foundation for business success. “They are the pipeline which allows products to flow smoothly toward consumers. When you maintain communication with vendors, it allows those products and information to reach new markets. It’s a vital part of building strong relationships and trust with the brand.” Likewise, Lieben finds feedback essential to gauge the company’s growth. “In the past, some retailers were concerned about carrying our full line because our products took up quite a bit of floor and shelf space. We listened to their feedback and created smaller packaging through innovative vacuum compression technology. Now, most of our products fit on shelves or in stockrooms due to a nearly 70 percent reduction from the original size.” She notes that these changes were a direct result of feedback, and created a better brand image. “Because of input we received, our website and packaging include a variety of models in all shapes and sizes. We were recently at a show when a retailer said how refreshing it was that we put blended couples on the packaging.” According to Lieben, retailer and distributor feedback also helped Liberator to reimagine its bondage accessories line packaging, which now feature sexy photography, and clear acrylic packaging designed to fit on shelves of hang-on peg-boards.

Hands-on training is extremely beneficial for all involved. Our experience has shown that investing time being face-to-face with our partners helps them connect with our products even more. —Chaney Cox, Adventure Industries

Lieben says Liberator’s sales team works hard to develop strong, long-term relationships with retailers, providing in-store training for new retailers, and working closely with store staff. On the creative end, Liberator keeps marketing content fresh with photo shoots and video campaigns offered as DVDs or downloads. “We recently developed two new two-minute videos which feature the Liberator Original Label and Black Label products,” she reports. Along with these promotional materials, Liberator has also recently provided two product benefit videos, POP material used as posters, product descriptors, and shelf-talkers, all available through a secured link that can be instantly downloaded and customized. For 2016, Liberator will add a monthly email newsletter for registered retailers and distributors. And, to provide product education, Lieben travels worldwide for trade shows and other events, because she finds the best way to educate is to let retailers and distributors experience the product first-hand.

Across the pond at Rocks-Off in the U.K., managing director Sue Walsh agrees with Lieben that communication with retailers and distributors is vital. “As a manufacturer it’s important for us to maintain our communication with our distributors, wholesalers and retail chain customers as in effect they are all part of the Rocks-Off sales team. They need to be informed at all times of our business plans and product launches,” she says.

Retailer and distributor feedback about packaging and branding is also very important. Walsh notes, “We recently re-branded, resized and redesigned our packaging, and when we were in the process of doing this we fully considered all comments we received,” she explains. The result? Rocks-Off has been nominated for the XBIZ Award for Excellence in Product Packaging. Walsh is pleased at this validation of her design team’s work, which was based on customer and retail/distribution feedback.

Walsh’s collaboration technique with retailers and distributors includes attending international trade shows and wholesaler, distributor and retail chain in-house events. “We’re also happy to train staff and educate customers both on the brand and our new releases.” She notes that her company recently attended distributor East Coast News’ event, as well as ANME. “Although we are a U.K. company, our customer base is global, and we’re always happy to look at further ways to communicate,” she says. Rocks-Off provides promotional materials via a full online media site that provides high and low resolution imagery, functional videos, and copy available in five languages. On request, the company can supply banners, adverts and posters. “Our team is constantly in touch with our customer base. It’s part of our ethos that we let our customers know exactly what they can expect from us,” Walsh states.

Helle Panzieri of OVO Lifestyle Toys concurs with both Lieben and Walsh. “Clear and direct communication ensures our retailers and distributors can operate as a true extension of the brand,” she says. OVO routinely looks to resellers for input on products and services. “The more we learn from them, the better we can serve them and their consumers.” OVO provides an assortment of online and printed resources as well as a full-time product expert to train retailers either on site, by video conference, or over the phone.

“Our award-winning POP displays are second to none,” Panzieri attests. “Retailers can easily create a beautiful and functional OVO Lifestyle Toys section in their stores, complete with HD video, working testers and endless merchandising options. Of course, we can provide graphics and banners as well.”

Chaney Cox is brand manager at Adventure Industries, with a strong focus on its line of rabbit vibrators from The Rabbit Company. As a relatively new brand, Cox says she works hard to keep an open line of communication and help resellers to succeed. “Information is an extremely valuable asset,” she notes. “Even with our collective years of experience, we’re a small company and input from our partners helps shape us into a stronger and smarter brand every day.” The company is on the road every month, providing on-site training and support at trade shows, retailer, and distributor events. “Hands-on training is extremely beneficial for all involved. Our experience has shown that investing time being face-to-face with our partners helps them connect with our products even more.” Adventure Industries offers retailers and distributors a range of printed and digital collateral. “Our catalogs, downloadable assets, displays and planograms are all designed specifically for the brand and are readily available.”

Patty Callahan, PR, communications and marketing manager for LELO in San Jose, Calif., sees effective communication with retailers and distributors as “the most important element of our business. It’s a dialogue,” she explains. “It’s a lot more involved than simply providing marketing materials to boost sales. It’s also about providing opportunities for our retailers to talk to us and give us feedback regarding issues they’re encountering.” Callahan says LELO’s retailers and distributors honestly express what they need, what’s working and what’s not. “Usually this feedback comes after a product launch, regarding a pleasure object’s marketing or positioning, for example. But sometimes, retailer feedback can inform forthcoming products. The retailers are on the ground after all, speaking directly to customers about their needs and desires, and those conversations often get relayed back to us.” She notes that LELO’s packaging is almost entirely driven by consideration for retailers. “We have a responsibility to make sure our packaging looks good on their shelves and in their photography.”

While Callahan says LELO has excellent working relationships with all retailers, with some particularly close retail partners, the company organizes large-scale in-store events to cross-promote brands. “We’re always happy to hear from other potential partners who’d like to organize events with us,” she says. The company also has a strong presence at trade shows, and an in-house design and marketing team that produces high quality support materials, including editable banners, high-converting posters and leaflets to support in-store staff.

Before any product launch, Callahan reports, the company issues staggered communications to inform their retail and distribution network. “Then, shortly afterwards, we will send out technical details, marketing copy, promotional information, design assets in a number of sizes, and an educational video which discusses the features of the new products. Beyond that, we have a large international team of sales reps and managers, fully informed about the products and never more than an email away,” she says.

Eye of Love owner Alberto Chowaiki also firmly believes clear and effective communication with distributors and retailers directly affects the integrity and awareness of a brand. “It’s important to be clear and work together in the brand-building process so that you, and they, carry the optimal inventory levels, understand turnaround time, and all the areas which will ultimately lead to sales growth. As retailers and distributors deal with a full line of products, this communication gives you the opportunity to make the collection more competitive.”

Chowaiki asserts that feedback from retailers and distributors is always highly relevant. “They are getting the information from the consumer and sharing how your product fits together with the rest of the products in their stock. Especially with the international retailers and distributors where factors like language and culture come into play, they are the best indicators of what is selling, and can be very helpful in the development process.”

Eye of Love collaborates with retailers and distributors through spiffs, promotions and questionnaires, as well as offering testers, samples and a plethora of marketing materials. “We have training guides in many languages as well as video training, and whenever possible, we schedule time to visit stores or coordinate Skype meetings,” Chowaiki says.

With the value of retailer and distributor input rating high for manufacturers, providing appropriate marketing and training materials, listening to feedback, and communicating openly, are a major priority and strong commitment for today’s adult manufacturers.