A week or so ago I came across an article on Drapers on Twitter, "Retailer Insights: Making sense of declining wholesale relationships" and I thought it was an interesting read. In it, Elizabeth Hanley, owner of independent retailer Magpie's Nest in Stalybridge, Cheshire talks about how she has noticed a decline in brand loyalty from the brands she stock.
Elizabeth explains that she's noticed a difference both in terms of flexibility around payment terms, exclusivity, and customer service. In the tough retail climate we are experiencing here in the UK at the moment it is really sad to read that at a time where we should value the relationships we've built over the years and lift each other's businesses some suppliers have chosen to take a different approach.
Elizabeth opened her first shop in 2013 selling handbags and accessories and after a year the shop moved into larger premises. In 2016 the shop had outgrown its retail space and the store moved into even larger premises and expanded into giftware.
The shop stock both big brands usually found in the high street and big department stores, as well as products from locally produced handmade businesses, and proudly puts its customers at the centre of everything they do to create a positive and memorable shopping experience.
I reached out to Elizabeth and asked her if she would be interested in taking part in one of my mini-stories and I was so happy that she agreed. As an owner of a successful independent shop that has won lots of awards over the years and who sell across a number of categories I thought she would have some great advice for you and I'm so pleased to share it with you below.
How do you find new suppliers?
I am always looking. I never have a day off in that sense! If I spot something on holiday in a shop I like the look of I will do some research to find the supplier. I picked up one of our soap companies we stock like this. I was on holiday in the lake district and saw these super gorgeous soaps, purchased one, and tested it out at home. Then when I decided the product was good I contacted the company to see if they would work with us.
I also like it when one of the agents we work with recommends a brand to us, this has opened the door to us stocking some really good brands, I also do the more traditional attending buying fairs although recently, it feels like the same old same old. I think I prefer to hunt out new suppliers!
What makes you say yes to a new supplier?
If I have identified the supplier as a key brand, that I want in the shop then as long as they say yes to working with us they are in. If the supplier is not a key brand then I would usually look at the product range to see if it complements our existing range or adds value. I also look at the retail price point. I have walked away from stocking some beautiful products because as soon as I saw the RRP I knew they wouldn't sell in our store. I also like to see how reliable a supplier is. That can be hard, as it's not until you are screaming for more stock and they can't fill your order do you realise they aren't that great to work with!
How do you prefer that potential suppliers introduce their products to you? Email, store visit (if local), social media, or trade-shows and how often do you think it's appropriate for a supplier to follow up on an initial introduction?
Post. Always! I am known for being super grumpy, and nothing irritates me more than someone calling me to try and sell me anything (not just stock - card machines, CCTV services, etc). I just don't have enough time in a day for a sales pitch. I always read and look through brochures and if a product interests me I will keep the brochure and decide if, and when, it would be the right time for me to order with them then I usually get in touch to arrange this.
Of course, a supplier should follow up an initial introduction, for me, an email is miles better than a call. I hate taking a call when someone says they sent a brochure and what did I think. I make decisions super quickly about whether I want to a supplier, if I do, I have usually contacted them.
What makes a supplier a good supplier?
Loyalty returned. Our best relationships are with the companies that are super easy to deal with. If I have a problem with a product it's promptly sorted, reordering from them can be done online at midnight if I need to! They provide me with excellent support for things like product images and product spec, and point of sale. They never start trading with another stockist on my doorstep, they let me know about special offers, they thank us for their business, and they mean it.
What advice would you give to someone starting to think about wholesale?
To a wholesaler: Make life easy for the stockist, make sure it's easy for them to order from you, and fix any issues that arise quickly and promptly. Thank them for their business and mean it, be loyal.
To a stockist looking at wholesalers: Look at competitor products, what T&C (terms and conditions) and price points do they offer, are they comparable. What will this brand bring to your business, and will they be loyal to you?
Thank you so much Elizabeth for taking part, you can find out more about Magpie's Nest over on their website where you can also find and buy a large selection of accessories, handbags, and gifts or if you live locally to Stalybridge, do pop in and have a look around next time you need to buy a gift. You can also follow Elizabeth over on Instagram, @mymagpiesnest.
I am a supporter of the Just a Card campaign and I think it's so important that we support our independent shops both locally and further afield. If you have not heard about this brilliant campaign please do visit their website and follow them on @justacard over on Instagram.
As always, if you feel like you're not getting the results you would like from your wholesale or if you are not quite sure how to get started I offer 1:1 completely bespoke mentoring and you can read more about my services here or sign-up to my newsletter to receive 15% off your copy of my ebook.