A distributor asks: As a small distributor who is relatively new to the industry, what’s the best way to go about choosing promotional products suppliers?
One of our most successful strategies has been simply to work with the people who work with us. It is not an easy task when you are first starting out, so a new and small distributor will need to find supplier partners rather than waiting for them to seek you out. There are two pieces to this strategy: direct supplier reps and multi-line reps.
Direct Supplier Reps
I would start out with a list of the larger suppliers that offer products in multiple categories to keep my number of suppliers to a minimum. Find out who their rep is for your market and set up a meeting. If you are in a smaller market, chances are that they seldom visit that market and tend to only go to larger distributors. Let them know that you want to meet with them to learn about their line. Once you have established a base relationship, channel business their way, even if you need to drop your margin a few points to start to show growth. Order samples and take them to your clients and start to get on the supplier’s radar.
These reps can be a great way to narrow your focus to a few key suppliers. Most multi-line reps will have a wide variety of product categories in their lineup which should cover a great part of your needs. Finding them might take some work as they also spend their time and efforts with larger distributors in your market. Ask them to come in and make a presentation to you and your sales reps (even if it’s just you!).
A few other key points:
• Attend any regional shows that suppliers and multi-line reps attend in your market. The more they see you, the more they will work with you.
• Treat your suppliers and multi-line reps as partners. Many distributors do not see the value of these relationships, but they are just as important as your relationships with customers. Suppliers will gravitate to distributors that work with them and treat them with respect.
• Always accept a meeting when they come into your market.
• Don’t abuse their sample, virtual sample and spec sample policies. Order what you need and what you think you can get business with.
• Order a distributor self-promo item from them. This will show them that you are serious about them and their products.
This strategy has worked very well for us and many times we get first pick of meeting times when someone visits the market. We also have a true and honest value for our suppliers. Once a year when they come in for the Boise Rep Show, we invite them to our showroom the day before (usually their travel day) for a little supplier open house where they can come in, grab a snack and maybe even an adult beverage. They are very appreciative and it has helped us establish some great relationships and even friendships.
In The Bag Promotions
The best way to find qualified suppliers is to look at PPAI Supplier Star winners and awards of merit recipients. It makes sense to check out these companies because they have been thoroughly tested for product quality and customer service excellence by industry distributors in the day-to-day operations of their businesses. It’s a no brainer.
Teresa Moisant, MAS
Moisant Promotional Products
[Editor’s Note: Find the list of PPAI Supplier Stars at www.ppai.org. Click on Inside PPAI and Award Recipients.]
Finding good suppliers is simple: use the common-courtesy and good-for-all rule. One of the first questions we were asked when we joined the industry was, “Do you sell direct?” Does your supplier have an in-house distributorship or do they sell their products direct, through a spouse-as-distributor type of arrangement? We do not.
Being in the industry for 30 years, I have seen the top [industry] commandments broken and also unenforced. Will your supplier call you (the distributor) with an end-user lead? We do. This is a touchy subject that’s usually not enforced but I think it’s a vital part of a trusting relationship between a supplier and a distributor.
Vice President of Sales
Curto Toy Mfg. Co., Ltd.
A Distributor Asks: I had a meeting with a newer contact at an established client. This person was new to the role of business line marketing manager, so we were discussing additional opportunities to work together. I knew that her department gave out Lucite awards and that there could be an opportunity for our company since we have been providing Lucite for other departments as well as for other clients. The client was open to it but said it would have to be down the road as they had just signed a contract with a supplier for the year. The supplier’s name was one that rang a bell for me. When I returned to the office, I looked up the name and confirmed that it was a promotional products supplier that we have used. I contacted them and received the explanation that the supplier did not sell direct to the end user, but they did have a division that did. Is that different? Should that matter to me as a distributor? In some years we did $100,000 in business with this supplier and now they are my competitor. What would you do?
Deadline: June 24