Like many of our readers I am a frequent market “participant”. At markets – I have had the fortunate experience to meet with countless retailers and manufacturers over my 20+ years in the home furnishings industry. At High Point (which just wrapped-up a few days ago) – I enjoyed an embedded experience with the staff of a decent sized furniture e-tailer as they made their High Point Market showroom rounds. Here are a few key observations that traditional brick & mortar retailers will find interesting. I know I did.
Online retailers (e-tailers) are still the black sheep. I say that tongue in cheek as it is far better today than just a few years ago. There was a time when e-tailers were simply “turned away”! We weren’t even “allowed” at markets (I was an e-tailer for over a decade – many showrooms would simply turn us away). Today e-tailers are welcome – but other than few select vendor showrooms, most vendors had a whole team of 1 dedicated to their entire online channel. You can imagine the experience for us. This in comparison to the 100’s of reps supporting the traditional brick & mortar channel. Certain vendors did let the “local rep” also assist (get credit for) the e-tailers in their area so we had better (some) success during those visits. I was very pleased to see a few of these “multi-channel” reps do awesome, but most were at a loss as to what the e-tailer needs. Unfortunately, this is not only a blow to e-tailers – it is also a knowledge and support gap for the traditional dealers that need a lot more support in their online efforts from vendors.
Local dealers could “see” products before e-tailers. Certain vendors “hold” new product releases exclusively for their traditional channels for a period. However, that is not what I am referring to. When new products become “available”, stocking dealers may have a huge advantage in actually “seeing” the products before the e-tailer gets what they need to get the products on their ecommerce websites. For example – we were in 2 showrooms with new products on the showroom floor. These products were in stock ready for shipment to the dealer. However – to the non-stocking e-tailer, it was going to be weeks before the images were ready of the new products for their website. FAIL! If I was a stocking dealer, taking possession of these new releases – I would have my iPhone out the minute those products hit my warehouse and I would get them on my website pronto. First mover advantage – you! You could (will) have a tremendous jump on most others. Write this one down.
E-tailers rely on vendor inventory. (Insert captain obvious commentary). Think about the consumer journey for a new sofa or mattress. Unless it is an impulse buy, or the relatives are on their way type of moment – the consumer spends months “pinning” and pining that major purchase. Months…… So just imagine the consumer experience when the item they’ve dreamt about for months and months is “gone”. Worse yet – still on a e-tail site and no longer available from the vendor (yep heard that as well a lot at market). Enter the local stocking dealer. You know what you have, always – and can capitalize on this awareness and proximity. Use it to your advantage. If you know items are no longer available, call that out if you have stock. Ask your reps if certain items or any SKU’s in particular are absolutely crushing it. Don’t be afraid to order a few more and go after that online awareness. Scarcity. It’s a powerful thing. Stocking dealers – know this angle!
My intent in capturing and highlighting these takeaways was not to “level” the channel playing field; but to point out that in all the noise and dust “online” seems to kick-up in various conversations, there are many areas that the traditional bricks and mortar dealers can leverage in driving success at the local level. You just need to find them and maximize.