The Two-Way Street of Supply
Don't be shy about protecting your store in retailer/vendor partnerships.
But don't overlook your vendor's concerns either
When it comes to jewelers' relationships with suppliers, a good offense
is your best defense. Elizabeth Parker of Curt Parker Inc., St. Louis, MO,
practices this philosophy in dealing with her suppliers while remaining
sensitive to their needs.
Parker shared the following tips with other jewelers during a seminar
organized by Charlotte Preston Catalysts, White Bear Lake, MN, at the JCK
International Jewelry Show in June in Las Vegas, NV.
What Jewelers Should Ask For
- Will suppliers agree to fast-pay terms?
It always pays to ask suppliers for a 10% discount if you're willing to
prepay or agree to other fast-pay terms, she said. This helps the supplier
with cash flow, and the savings you accrue, even if you have to pay from
a bank line of credit, will be worth it to your bottom line. If suppliers
won't give a full 10%, they may agree to a smaller discount or other perks
that could save you money. "If you don't ask, you'll never know what
you might have been able to negotiate," she said.
- Is the supplier dependable? Try to obtain
a promise from a new supplier that it won't renege on your order to satisfy
a bigger customer. Parker cited a case in which she bought a line from
a new supplier at a show last year. The supplier promised to deliver the
line to her in time for a special promotion in September. When the deadline
passed, she learned the supplier had given an exclusive on the line to
a bigger competitor in the same area.
- Is it easy to do business with the supplier?
Reordering should be a simple task, preferably on-line or through another
- Will communication about your order be simple?
Parker said picture orders are a great way to simplify communication. Many
suppliers now use order confirmation forms that include a photo and stock
number of each piece you order. This is particularly handy when dealing
with overseas suppliers, where misunderstandings are more common. Some
tech-savvy suppliers can even e-mail merchandise photos with a follow-up
- Will exclusive agreements become a problem?
Though they may seem terrific at the outset, these arrangements can backfire.
Some exclusive lines will switch allegiance to a local competitor, even
after you've sold the line well and built up name recognition for it in
your area. You may be better off sticking with non-exclusive companies
such as Stuller, which sells to any jewelry store that pays its bills,
- Will the supplier keep your business confidential?
Be wary of suppliers that may gossip about your business. Ask for an agreement
that your confidential business affairs won't become fodder for industry
- Will the supplier treat you with respect?
This seems like basic advice, but Parker has stopped doing business with
several companies because of rudeness and an inability to remember who
she is even after being a customer for years.
- Will the supplier keep you updated on new products?
"Nothing is more frustrating than opening up a consumer magazine and
finding an advertisement for a brand new watch from one of your suppliers
and you've never seen it," she said.
- How will the supplier deal with "tradebacks"?
Get all agreements in writing about how and to what degree you can trade
back unsold merchandise.
How to Improve Relations
You can take several actions to improve your relationship with vendors.
Among those Parker suggests:
- Always treat your suppliers with the same courtesy you expect from
them. "If you're nice, you'll be treated well when you have problems,"
- Communicate quickly and efficiently. Suppliers are busy, especially
at trade shows, so rehearse a 30-second commercial about yourself that
includes your store name, location, credit rating and what you're looking
for. This will help the supplier deal quickly with your needs.
- Go over merchandise you've received right away. Let the supplier know
immediately about defective pieces or styles you didn't order so you can
get a quick exchange. Don't wait and find out unpleasant surprises later,
which could be harder then for a supplier to fix.
Suppliers on the Internet
The Internet is changing supplier-jeweler relationships, Parker acknowledged,
especially in the case of suppliers selling direct to consumers on-line.
Parker said her store's defense is a good offense. The Curt Parker Web site,
which she and her husband, Curt, operate, is a well-organized, informational
site that consumers praise as "not just trying to sell me something,"
Consumers tell the Parkers they learn from the site, which also links
to popular consumer-information sites such as those operated by Jewelers
of America, the American Gem Society and the American Gem Trade Association.
Sometimes people want to buy based on what they see on-line, but more often,
consumers end up visiting the Parkers' store instead.
Unless vendors are willing to open retail locations, they'll never have
that asset, she said. Still, there many be types of jewelry that will be
sold primarily on-line. "Jewelers have to face how Internet selling
will change their inventory," she said. "We sell very little plain
gold anymore that's been taken over by Internet marketers and home
shopping networks. You just have to get out of those parts of the business."
But she says your presence on-line, especially if you have an informative
site, will lead many on-line surfers to your bricks-and-mortar location
when it comes time to buy an important piece.
by Peggy Jo Donahue
Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.