Welcome to Part 4 of the 2011 SNEWS® Outdoor Retailer Survey. Each part of the entire survey, complete with expanded and detailed analysis of each category’s results, has been presented in sections to our All Access SNEWS subscribers, with this week focusing on the question, what’s the biggest waste of your time presently in the outdoor industry? If you missed last week, click here to read Part 3 of our annual survey: Top-selling outerwear, sportswear and footwear brands. Click here to read Part 2 of our annual survey: "Top selling brands for camping, backpacking." And click here to read Part 1: "The best and worst."
In asking our free-thinking question of survey respondents, none were required to provide an answer, and yet over 150 took the time to write thoughtful, sometimes sarcastic, and frequently funny responses. In most cases, the responses were quite eye-opening. We culled through all of the answers, performed a basic edit to make them more easily readable, and grouped the answers under a variety of subheads. Pour a cup of coffee, grab a soda, or pop the top of your favorite beer (please, not before noon, unless you are a rugby player) and spend a bit of time reading the answers to our question. There is clearly a lot of room for improvement in efficiency and process, and we suspect that the manufacturers who start making retailers smile this year and next will be those to read, think, listen and then act proactively. Granted, not all desires below are easily doable if at all, but many others provide information that is certainly something any company can and should implement in some form or another.
So, without further drivel from us, grab a notepad for your ideas toward solution and enjoy the read:
Inventory Management / Fulfillment
>> I think that companies need to ensure better availability and timeliness of preseason orders, but also create an easier at-once availability pool. Online ATS makes all of this much more transparent and easier to deal with on a retailer side.
>> Sending customers to manufacturer's web sites to buy products that I can't order for them. It makes me crazy! Not being able to check availability and order online.
>> Clarity on fulfillment. Figuring out what has shipped, what hasn't and what isn't going to ship. Companies need to send better reports before the season starts listing what will ship and when. If it's going to be delayed they need to expedite it when it is available and if it isn't going to ship we need to know at least 3-4 months ahead of time with alternative options so we aren't stuck without any product.
>> Having to back track, and double- and triple-check preseason invoices to be sure the billing is correct. Manufacturers need to honor their preseason orders and not make stuff up. Send what was ordered when it was ordered.
>> Receiving unwanted merchandise. It’s really my fault, but if more reps would take the time to contact their accounts prior to orders being shipped for adjustments, it would help busy shops to better maintain their inventory, meaning less unwanted product would be shipped so less items would have to be put on sale, which helps to better maintain sales margins and keeps the value of product up at a higher level.
>> Pre-season orders. Lines we want to do may not be at our trade shows or have area reps. Vendors want us to do everything online and while we do use that technology, sometimes to map out a program we need to see, touch feel, have a hard copy workbook. Technology is great but does not always save us time.
>> Inventory management is our biggest issue. Spending time at shows looking at product and ordering product that gets cancelled, or that is backordered during our peak season causes a lot of issues, and wastes my time trying to search for replacements. Not something that is easily fixed but was one of our biggest scrambles this year.
>> While I understand that for production purposes, preseason orders are important, I really like the Petzl Turns program which uses sales histories to develop growth and discounts. The most helpful part of writing preseason orders for me is having a merchandising plan for the future, but I dislike and find it wasteful to nail down exact amounts of products for which the vendor already has a sales history for items sold. All I do is replicate my sales history in a preseason form and add about 10 percent. I would be in favor of committing to items that buyers wish to reorder for future seasons without having to pin down exact numbers that will be changed a month ahead of the ship date -- this is unnecessarily redundant in my opinion. I would find it really helpful to have an online layout program where you can drag and drop items in categories that you plan to buy (Prana has this for sportswear merchandising). Vendors could then access how many times a product shows up in all buyers "layout or line plan." Buyers would have a format that they can have a visual plan that also communicates their choices to vendors at the same time. It will make for better buying and streamlined success to have an "all in one" tool for planning line plans. I would imagine this would be a daunting project to put together, but if many vendors committed and buyers found value in it, it could be a pretty sustainable format for everyone to work from and support.
>> Following up on late or incomplete shipments. Make sure that if you are going to ask us to write a preseason order 9 to 12 months in advance, that you can fill it.
>> Taking wasteful packaging off new product and tracking down non-attached packing slips.
>> Too many trade shows. We are a store that carries multiple product lines, especially with kids and find it very difficult now that there are regional pre- and post-shows, the Outdoor Retailer shows, the SIA show, shoe shows, children's clothing shows…. We can't go to all of them but not all reps/companies are at the same shows, even in the outdoor industry. With manufacturers making deadlines earlier and earlier, we can't get everyone done/seen at once. Many reps are coming up on their own (I do like this part) and setting up in hotel rooms. But all of this all adds up to a lot of time outside of our business.
>> Regional shows.
>> Trade shows that do not consider the retailers’ needs.
>> Buyers shows are right in the middle of the time we do 75 percent of our business. WTF! Move them to a more convenient time for the shops so I can have people attend the shows.
>> Parties that begin at 4 p.m. at the OR show and you're still trying to get work done. Tell the companies to go off sight and quit clogging the aisles.
>> Travel time to shows because there is no industry show on the East Coast.
>> Trade shows! The timing of tradeshows is too far off from the actual manufacturers’ ordering timeline. Winter Outdoor Retailer is a month after a majority of our winter pre-season orders are due. The regional shows are even further off the mark (Providence in mid-February?!). The timing of trade shows needs to be adjusted to realistic demands of the manufacturers.
>> Paddlesports is awesome! I would not change a thing, except improve margins, get better control of online discounting, get rid of one or two (or five) boat manufacturers, create a west coast reps’ show in September and loosen up credit in the banking world.
>> Our biggest waste of time is attempting to compete with e-commerce stores who discount, sell into "protected" territory, don't have to charge sales tax, and offer free shipping. They offer no hands-on customer service -- try before you buy, etc. -- so, unless the buyer is completely knowledgeable of the product they are trying to purchase, a high percentage actually do not purchase the best item for their needs. Ninety percent of guests that come to us to purchase a specific kayak walk out with a different kayak after we complete their demo experience of all in the kayaks in the category of their needs. We demo with all who walk in the door, immediately. Getting the right watercraft the first time saves money and the wasted time of paddling the wrong watercraft and having to upgrade down the line. For us, it's all about serving our guests as we like to be served. Would you buy a car without driving it first? Shouldn't that be the first criteria in purchasing something that takes you out on water? Y'all enjoy the day.
>> Trying to grow paddlesports with very little help from the manufacturers these days.
>> Repairing or updating fit issues on kayaks. It needs to be changed in order to allow the retailer more efficient use of their time and as a service to customers. There are many options for change.
Business Strategy and operations
>> Being a small business, you don't get much attention. Reps and companies want more, more and more all the time. Every year it is about more sales instead of sustainability.
>> Tempering vendor growth expectations with reality.
>> Having to monitor Internet-only competitors' discounts/promotions. Distributors and manufacturers need to do a better job of choosing their retailers and not be so hungry to open new dealers. Do a better job of taking care of their quality retailers that are representing their products well and helping to grow the sport.
>> Continuous calls from companies that do not fit with our business model.
>> Having to hear about how green companies are and what their newest green thing is. We all know it’s just BS and is the latest marketing ploy.
>> Meetings for the sake of meetings!! We need to do a better job of minimizing meetings that wander; either meet with a strict agenda and limit to a specified amount of time, or meet outdoors where we would all rather be (i.e., on a chairlift, skinning up a ridge, on the trails, etc.). I have a feeling that the purity of the outdoors would help us all bring a little perspective and clarity into our ideas and meetings.
>> Box store prices. I spend a LOT of time educating people about kayaks etc. and then they go for price at the box store. Many times they'll come back and tell me they wish they would have spent the extra dollars on a "good" brand rather than the box store brand. Now they just wasted their money and my time.
>> Electronics. Lots of technical information to make very little profit. Needs increased margins and more focus on specialty retail
>> Dealing with customers who take hours of our time to fine tune choices of product(s), then they buy out-of-state or over the Internet to save money. More enforcement is needed by brands who profess they require retail pricing, and sales tax needs to be charge on all catalog, Internet, and "cross state line" sales. This is a biggie!
>> Policing other companies’ websites that are pricing goods below MAP.
>> Dealing with warranty issues. Streamline the process in the retailer's favor.
>> Companies that under-staff customer service, getting voicemail, and reps that expect you to travel two to four hours to see their line.
Emails, Internet and Social Media
>> Vendors that send me all their consumer email/offers. My mailbox has plenty in it, and it's sort of rubbing my nose in the competition.
>> Automated phone answering machines. It's so MUCH BETTER to have a human answer the phone!
>> Social networking sites. People need to make real friends
>> Filling out surveys.
>> YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
>> Telemarketing cold calls for advertising.
>> Emails occupy much time to read and sort each day. Telemarketing also eats up precious time.
>> Too many "must-read" blogs and e-blasts in my email inbox. Wish the people writing these would get to the point and provide some new info.
Training, reps and clinics
>> Sales reps just stopping by during the holiday rush.
>> Finding companies that value and support specialty retailers by price-protecting and providing reps for product knowledge.
>> Clinics. I have seen all the lines and I get too much boring company information. Clinics need to be shorter and to the point.
>> The hungry vendors wanting me to book time to see their lines at a trade show. They need to make appointments and come see me in my office if they are really interested in getting into our stores!
>> Waiting for timely responses from sales reps.
>> Credit holds! Need to communicate to our reps when we have accounting problems so they can let us buyers know! COMMUNICATION!!!!!!!