This is part three of a multi-part series. The next installments will be published in the coming weeks. You can read the entire series here.
Last week, we published our findings on the best manufacturers to do business with, according to more than 100 independent retailers across the country. For the sake of balance, we also included a question in our survey about the most difficult manufacturers to do business with—those that retailers found frustrating in one way or another.
We realize this is a fraught topic, and our intention here is not to level unfair accusations or throw anyone under the proverbial bus. The "best" and "most difficult" sections of our 2020 Retailer Survey were not intended to determine winners and losers, or good guys and bad guys, in the industry. They were meant to collect a general reading of public opinion among retailers to see if any trends exist—and as it turns out, they do. (Read on.)
First, an encouraging pattern: No single manufacturer emerged clearly this year as the most difficult company to do business with. Whereas Patagonia secured the designation of best manufacturer by a clear and commanding margin, no company earned more than 5 percent of the vote share for most difficult.
Interestingly, Patagonia tied Confluence Outdoor for the most votes in this category, with 4.1 percent of the vote share each. Bear in mind, though, that this number represents only 6 votes out of 148. (A handful of the 136 survey respondents submitted ties for this category. We elected to count these multiple submissions, as we did last week, bringing the vote total slightly higher than the respondent total.)
What frustrated retailers most
The reasons respondents gave for choosing Patagonia and Confluence did indicate a pattern. For Patagonia, the most common gripe was direct-to-consumer competition from the brand itself, which some retailers said hindered their ability to sell the brand at reasonable in-store prices. For Confluence, the biggest complaint was a lack of communication with retailers.
It should be noted, however, that these two concerns—DTC competition and poor communication—were the most common complaints overall. They were not unique to Patagonia and Confluence.
That, in fact, may be the more important takeaway from this section of our survey. No single manufacturer stood out as the most difficult to work with, but certain issues presented widespread problems for retailers this year. Slow shipping was another issue that came up frequently in the responses we collected.
After Patagonia and Confluence, we saw a seven-way tie for second place—though again, the number of votes cast for each of these companies was very small. Black Diamond, Chaco, Hydro Flask, Osprey, prAna, Specialized, and The North Face each earned 2.7 percent of the vote total.
Most of the remaining companies received just one, two, or three votes apiece. The companies with two or three votes included Bell, Birkenstock, BOTE, Coleman, Columbia, Giro, Kuhl, Outdoor Research, Quality Bicycle Products, Solomon, and Trek. The companies with one vote were Arc'teryx, Atomic, Aventon, Blackburn, Bonafide Kayaks, Canada Goose, Carhartt, Chinook, Cinelli, Costa Del Mar, Cotopaxi, Dovetail, Dynafit, Electra, ExOfficio, Giant, Gregory, K2, Kavu, KEEN, La Sportiva, Lowa, Mountain Khakis, Native Watercraft, Never Summer, New Balance, Nixon, Norco, Oakley, Olukai, Pajar, Parks Project, Petzl, Royal Robbins, Sea to Summit, Shimano, Smartwool, Spyder, Stance, Topo Designs, True Grit, Under Armour, Wahoo, and Wilier.