guest post by Eva Van Strijp
recently on the blog i ran a series on building some customer love into your business plans. and then i got to chatting with one of my fabulous biz friends about how you can build customer love when your customer is not actually the end user of the product, but the retailer who sells the product.
eva is a distributor of baby products to a number of retailers, and a keen advocate of sustainable parenting. i asked her some of the common questions i get from biz owners who are selling their products wholesale or who have multiple types of “customers” to server – here are her awesome tips for showing your retailers some love!
#1. My profits margins are greater through retail than through wholesale. Why should I put time and energy into showing retailers some love, when I could be putting that time and energy into customers and products that bring a greater return?
First, we need to distinguish between what is considered profitable return. If your business model supports retail and wholesale patronage, it is good to remember that while your wholesale customers might not give you the short-term profit that a retail customer will, they are there for the long haul and the return they give to your brand is more than just monetary.
Treat them right and work WITH them and they will promote your brand for you. A raving customer is of course always an asset and will often return to shop again, but a wholesale client will give you the greatest long term value and it is well worth putting in the time and effort to ensure they feel loved.
Here's why they deserve some extra special loving:
a) No one is twisting their arm to stock your product. They either use the product themselves and love it enough to sell it OR customers asked them to stock it OR it's a well-packaged, in-demand product with a great margin. Or a combination of the 3. At any rate, your retailers CHOOSE to stock your products - they are not forced to do so.
b) They take your products to an audience you couldn't even imagine trying to reach on your own. Think about any big brand (Coke or Nike for example) - you might think they have marketing pull and they do, but customers buy them through retailers. They don't jump on the Coke website and buy online direct from the company. You can with Nike, but I would assume that most people purchase through a retailer and the retailers play an important role in bringing a real life experience and presence of the brand to a wide audience.
#2. I have two target markets - consumer and retailers - should I bother with a newsletter for my retailers?
The short answer is an emphatic YES!
Consistently, retailers tell us that communication is one of the most important facets of a wholesale/retail relationship. Whether you send your updates as a bulk newsletter or as individual, personalised emails (personally, I think a combination is great), the important thing is that you keep in touch.
You could reserve your regular (let's say, monthly) updates for generic information about stock availability, training videos, media mentions, product launches and upcoming promotions. Use your personal correspondence to ask how they are doing with your brand. Ask them how you can be of service.
Consistent, genuine communication is one of the best ways to show your retailers some love because it keeps them in the loop and reminds them that they are important to your business and brand - but it should also give them support, rather than them having to go searching for it.
#3. What if I email them and they say the product isn't selling well? Isn't it better to just let them do their own thing, and go after new customers?
If your products aren't selling well for a stockist, this is your chance to improve their experience of your brand.
How do you handle this? Do you offer them some free in store staff training? A value-add promotion? Listen to their suggestions for improved packaging, instructions, images? Create video tutorials and blog posts to help them explain and sell your products? (Great example of this here.)
Take their suggestions on board and FULFILL THEM. Don't think you are doing them a favour by improving product instructions or getting professional images done. They are doing YOU a favour by being in constant contact with consumers and bringing back all the goss to help you grow your brand and improve your service.
Of course you should go after new customers, but don't do this at the expense of the ones you have. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
#4. Currently, we service both retail and wholesale customers, but we would like to switch to servicing just our wholesale market. How can we make a seamless transition?
Unfortunately there is no magic formula for a seamless change of business model! So much depends on the model your business has been following in the past and the direction it will take. Remember: "switch to wholesale only by end of the year" is not a business plan! You need to be precise about your goals, break them in to working chunks and hold yourself accountable to them.
Here are a couple of quick tips before you launch in to this new world of wholesale only:
a) Make sure you have enough steady wholesale customers to keep your cash flowing in the first months after the transition. Cutting away the retail side of your business will hurt your cashflow unless you plan well for it.
b) Have a concrete plan to gain new customers. "6 new customers in May" is not explicit enough. You need to work out exactly who you will target, when and how. Will it be with an instore training evening? A product samples package followed up by a Skype meeting to discuss the contents? Is the retailer in an area that already has access to these or similar products? How will your new retailer represent against the competition? Your new retailers will ask these questions, and you owe them solid answers. So put all of this information into your marketing plan before you approach new customers. Don't just poach your competitor's stockist page and email random retailers! Or worse... Poach the first page of Google for your keyword results.
i love these tips, and really think this is an area where eva's business truly shines! no matter who YOUR customer is, find ways to show them some love!