It’s Two Steps Forward, One Step Back In Retailer, Vendor Dance

By: Thomas A. Curry

The days when a vendor’s job ended when the product was delivered to a retailer’s door are over. But cooperation has proved far from easy, and as retailers and resources work more closely, friction inevitably develops.

That message came through loud and clear when about 75 retailers, 25 vendors, and other attendees from California, Oregon, Colorado, and Nevada gathered at the Western Shoe Retailers Association Event.

Attendees explored issues from vendors’ closed booths at trade shows to sales incentives.


Two Steps Forward

The paradox of “by-appointment-only” booths provoked the most consternation among store owners; a sally against the practice prompted the largest applause of the show.

“If they want to make a splash, they close the booth down,” said Jack McCulloch Jr., owner of McCulloch’s Wide Width Shoes, Brea, Calif. “They say they need you to shop our line. But the door’s closed. Once you get in the door, you can’t look. You’ve got to go through a half-hour presentation.”

Attendees pointed out that many vendors are running appointment-only booths. Carolina Shoe Co. said it did so at The Shoe Show because it wanted to protect patents pending. And Scott Briggs, vice president of field sales for The Rockport Co., said a stream of passersby doesn’t help anyone: “Many of our retailers got frustrated. They’d come in and couldn’t have a meeting.”

Some retailers said they simply wanted to see the product before being walked through a line and hoped for a compromise. “It’s best to work by appointment, but the booths ought to be open to exploring without an appointment,” McCulloch said. “Somewhere there has to be a happy medium.”


One Step Back

Retailers also complained that top management often leaves before shows are over, and said that at key shows they need top people to be available.

“Their opportunities at these shoe shows you don’t get anywhere else,” said Blaine Beck, owner of Beck’s Shoes, San Jose, Calif. “To meet people. To me, this is more important than looking at the shoes.”

Retailers also brought up the issue of co-operative advertising, claiming that when a vendor lists several stores in one ad, a single retailer can get lost in the crowd.

“If I tag one of their commercials, they don’t know it’s me,” said Velma Hagar, owner of Cactus Flower Shoe Salon And Hagar’s Shoes for Men in Palm Desert, Calif. “They think it’s a Nordstrom ad.”

Retailers also said they wanted to more easily gain access to vendors’ product images to use in their own ads. “I need to be able to go out and market,” Alan Miklofsky, owner of Alan’s Shoes, Tucson, Ariz., said. “You need to give us disks of shoes now.”

Most attendees agreed that sales incentives, or spiffs, can work wonders. But retailers said it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. “We ran it three months,” Larry Goodwin, owner of Fort Worth, Texas,-based Larry’s Shoes, said of one spiff that started strong but gradually ate into sales of other product. “You can’t do that. It just cannibalizes the other brands.”

Even if spiffs are brief, some retailers said, salespeople can begin to rely on them. When the spiffs dry up, so can sales. “People start depending on it,” said Dave Mayfield, owner of Boot World, San Diego, Calif. “And then you can’t cut it back.”

Some retailers said that they run incentives to sell a product, regardless of whether vendors chip in. That lets the stores decide exactly which products to promote.

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