A Manufacturer Interviews A Retailer

I recently answered a series of questions for a manufacturer.  As soon as I completed the email interview I realized that the answers might be of interest to other ASTRA manufacturers as well.  Please remember that these answers are based on my own unique experiences and work flow, and may not represent all retailers.

How often do you interact with independent reps?

It depends on the rep and the lines they carry.  Some I meet monthly, others I meet quarterly or even less.  I have appointments with sales reps about 4 days a wee on average

Approximately how many product lines does the average rep present to you?

It varies.  Some are more gift reps with only 1 or 2 lines I actually carry (these reps I meet with the least often).  For the reps with too many lines I tend to ot get to all of the lines when we meet.  These reps I will make several days worth of appointments with and will still not get through all of the lines I carry.  I like the ones with 8-12 lines I carry more than the ones with 20+ lines or those with only 1 or 2.

Do you review catalogs prior to meeting with the rep?  If yes, what are the types of things you’re looking for?

Sometimes.  Many times I am too busy to though.  We always go through the catalogs together at the beginning of the year to set my assortment, I say what I like and they share the things they see on every order or that they think would do well in my stores.

After that initial appointment we just look at reports for reordering what's selling until a supplement comes out or I feel the need to mix it up with fresh products.

Do you prefer a physical catalog or a digital catalog?

Both are useful.  I prefer paper ones I can flip back and for through and mark up with notes and highlights and circles, but it's great when digital versions are available when traveling or I cannot easily find the paper version.

These only really work when the rep or I have an iPad or tablet to view them on.  It's very hard to look at a PDF and enter an order on the same screen.

Is there a fairly fixed time (or times) of year that you meet with reps?

I meet with reps all year long.  My busiest time for ordering is September-March, with a spike in May as I prepare for ASTRA and the Good Toy Group Meeting.  ASTRA's terms usually can't be beat and I always want to take advantage of the excellent discounts, dating and terms.

Is there a fairly fixed time (or times) of year that you place orders?

place orders when I meet with my reps.  If they want orders they know not to leave my office until I hand them the orders.  I am incredibly busy and will fill my time with everything else I have to get done (it's all important, right?) if they aren't sitting there with me. The other rule is never to leave my office without booking their next appointment.

What importance, if any, do you place on the brand of the manufacturer vs. specific game titles?

It depends.  Some game titles people ask for by name, other manufacturers have a good reputation and people trust that games that come from them will all be of a certain caliber.

Which awards matter to you, and to your customers?

I don't think customers really care which awards they have, as long as there is a seal on the box.  I do not take a Dr. Toy award as seriously than others as they give so many awards out each one means less.

How do you keep on top of the latest trends in the industry, and the latest new products?

Listening to customers first and foremost.   I also go to toy fair, ASTRA, toy fest west, and gift shows.  I also watch the Good Toy Group and ASTRA discussions carefully and listen to other retailers.  Sales Reps are also a great source of info.

 Ultimately though I always have to go with my gut-just because something is an amazing seller elsewhere does not mean it will necessarily sell in my store and vice-versa.  At the end of the day I know my store best.

Interior of Five Little Monkeys, Stephanie's Store.

Interior of Five Little Monkeys, Stephanie's Store.

Do you actively benchmark your pricing against other retailers?

Yes.   If my neighbor is selling something at $15.99 and I am selling it at $14.99 why not match them and earn an extra dollar on that item?  If the reverse is true, I may want to sell it at the lower price to match them and not seem overly expensive.

Amazon has had a huge effect on my pricing structure.  I not longer simply look at key stone pricing.  I try to get extra margin when I can for items under $20, but will take less margin on higher ticket items that people are more likely to shop around for.  $20-50 retails are usually keystone still.

How important are green/sustainable claims on products when you are making buying decisions?

As a Green Certified Bay Area Business it is very important.  I think we sadly are in the minority here nationwide. 'm hoping some day everything will be green/sustainable and it'll be the norm rather than the exception.  Since everything will be made sustainably it will no longer have to be called out on packaging and other marketing materials.

If it is sustainable but the price increases too much customers won't buy it.  It needs to be a balance between the two.

Are there any sales tools you wished manufacturers would provide that they currently don’t?

  1. don't understand why every vendor doesn't include bar codes in their catalogs.  
  2. Price changes are hard to deal with as a retailer as they involve a lot of work and coordination to physically find the items and re-sticker them.  
  3. Manufacturers need to use cost averaging more. they will sell a ton more of an item at $10 than they will at $10.50, it's better to lose 50 cents on this item and make it up somewhere else.  If I see something at $9.50 I'm going to charge $19.99 anyway.  I'd rather see a retailer sell 3 things all at $10 rather than charge me $9.50 for one, $10 for another, and $10.50 for the third. 
  4. 100% of 0 is 0.  f the price isn't right, no matter how great the product is it is not going to sell.  It might be better to set the price a little lower, but make up for the lost margin in volume.  This is my approach with those $10.50 items I price at $19.99
  5. Packaging is super important.  The best packages have info on all sides so that they can be merchandised any which way.  They also call out the key features of the product on the box.
  6. Perceived value is important. The general rule in toys is the bigger the box the bigger the price.  Customers have been subconsciously trained to think this way.
  7. Placing the barcode on the bottom of the box instead of the back of the box makes checking in product much faster and more efficient.  I love when I can flip a shipping carton over, open it, stick my stickers on all of the products inside and close it back up.  
  8. Shipping cartons that are clearly printed on all sides with the product name, vendor, style number and quantity contained in the box also makes receiving go much faster and helps keep back stock organized and makes things easy to find when re-stocking.

This article was originally posted in the ASTRA blog.