Retailers….We need them!
The following appeared in article I wrote for one of the Party trade magazines in 2014. Hopefully, this will reach a wider audience as I believe it becomes increasingly relevant. So many retailers, not only in our market but in most areas of retail, are asking the same question, is there a future beyond the internet.
In a time long ago, when Ford Cortinas ruled the M1, German shepherds were the dog of choice by the local drug dealer and a personal music system was the size of a small kitchen extension, Brits enjoyed partying with a few cardboard hats, some blowouts, a few paper decorations, crepe garlands and a pack of balloons. If you were really lucky you might find a retailer who would sell you latex balloons in the colour of your choice. We did not know any better and we felt we were the Party capital of the world. Then, came the Americans, to our rescue.
Initially, it was a combined wave of latex balloon decoration by Qualatex and Anagram (now Amscan) with their strange foil balloon things. At the beginning we all poopooed these items as American fads……balloon decoration that will never take off here…too gaudy, too American….too expensive…foil balloons ….once the retail is over a £1 they will fail….Wrong, wrong and wrong again . Most players in the market, author included, did not see it coming. It did not happen overnight, but both sets of product started to take hold. The second wave of Amscan and Unique introduced us to party decorations, piñatas, themes, huge ranges of loot bag toys and of course Halloween product.The like of which we had never seen before. This was soon followed in the costume market by companies such as Rubies. The only UK Company that seemed to see this coming was probably Smiffys. Without, the background of a huge home market (USA) it is hard to see how a UK company could have originated similar product ranges. So for all this we have our American Brethren to thank as it is without question that the UK Party (and maybe European) would not have developed in the way it has. Apologises for any company left of the list, it is not supposed to be exhaustive, nor an historical transcript, just trying to paint a picture. Now that’s the praise out of the way.
Traditionally, the distribution chain in the UK, was supplier, wholesaler, independent retailers and a few multiples. Now wholesalers are few, independents are few, multiples are more (in terms of volume), and now we have online retailers. Let’s be quite clear suppliers are not charities, they are there to make a profit. They have to chase the dollar. This can be done in 2 ways. You, either, seek to maximise your volumes, or you sell low volumes at a high margin. Realistically, if you pursue the former, you have to chase the big boys or do you? If you court and supply the multiples, it is like the first ice cold beer, instant gratification. The results are great. More often than not, the benefits become less obvious. Pressure is put on margins, pressure is put on stock holdings, ranges can be reduced, sales reduced, and the heat is on. A major is lost, even gone out of business (Woolworths, Clintons etc), and all of a sudden life is not so sweet and all of a sudden SmartyParty Pants Plc. is chasing every independent that they have offended and ignored over recent times because the WonderfulRetail store group is long gone, importing their own or has lost all interest in the party market.
Can a balanced basket of customers be achievable? Before answering that question, let us examine why the good independent retailer is important to the Party Market. In a previous article we examined the USP’s of the independent. The ability to spend time with a customer, having product knowledge and local knowledge to work with the customers. All of which in turn will ensure repeat business, hopefully increase the customer spend and spread the word. If you are a good supportive supplier, the good independent is your point of contact with your target consumer. This is the person who will sell your brand and product, secure awareness and longevity not the WonderfulRetail store group, nor cheapaschipsparty.com . Strong supportive brands are very important to the good independent. If they know they are going to earn money, confident in the product and know they can get supply, they will work for you before your competitor. They are the outlet that will build your brand. Their shop is your Brand shop window.
It is not the purpose of this column to propose marketing plans for the supply industry. Even, if it were, they would be ignored. However, in answer to; is it possible supplying a basket of various customers? Yes, it is, and there are examples even within our market place. But look beyond into other markets. To be quite honest, a lot of other retail sectors have more independents to work with. But it should not be beyond the wit of a good supplier to develop various routes to market. Unless you are Cocoa Cola, you have licensed product, or a very unique (and saleable) product you ignore the ‘Indiepartyshop’ at your peril. The tumultuous supplier cry of…without volume we would not be able to purchase or produce the product at the price we do, even for the independent…..no argument with that, but it not should prevent imaginative supply initiatives.
Just remember your target consumer’s first and last experience of your product. Is it the anonymous shelf of a large multi-product retail outlet? Is it the image on a web site of 16000 other party products? Or is it the experienced retailer who has gone to the trouble of telling the consumer how good your product is, how suitable it is for their purpose and why don’t they try this other item as they were produced specifically to match the original item.
If the good professional independent is not supported and encouraged, their future will be threatened. If they fail, then so will many suppliers. We ignore them at our peril.