The retail industry is a real 'people-centric' business, says successful entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne. Besides customers, retailers are communicating with a host of other companies on a daily basis, whether they are sales reps, cash and carry operators or a symbol group.
"It's important that retailers cater for their customers' needs, but with so many categories needing shelf space, retailers can't be expected to know everything about all product lines," says Bannatyne.
"This is where suppliers can support your business. After all, you are their sales channel so they need to ensure that you are equipped with all the right information and receive the right advice on merchandising and market data."
So what should you do to ensure that your communication with suppliers and manufacturers is as strong - and as useful - as it can be? Here are some top tips to point you in the right direction:

Use the help available



Sales rep visits aren't just about providing you with product or updating you on new products being launched by the manufacturer, they are also on hand to advise you on how to merchandise categories across your store. After all, there simply aren't enough hours in the day to individually monitor the success of every product line, or move selected ranges around the store to road-test sales success.
Manufacturers always have the latest market information and national sales data to hand, so make sure you tap into their knowledge to ensure that you are providing the right products for your customers. In doing so, it's likely this will have a positive impact to your bottom line.

Maintain regular contact



It's important that you make regular contact with your sales reps so that you always have the latest information at your fingertips. When you have a busy day in the store, regular time with a sales rep may seem like a luxury, but half an hour of constructive advice could mean the difference between a profitable line and one operating at a loss.
In addition, many manufacturers have a website tailored specifically for retailers, which provides details including product ranges, merchandising and pricing advice. Many also have a customer service line to answer any retailer queries. These resources should provide you with all the information you need. However, if there's additional information you think should be provided online, then why not suggest it to them?

Give constructive feedback



Communication needs to be two-way, so if you're not happy with a product, say so. If it's not moving off your shelves, then ask why and, if necessary, think about replacing it with a more profitable line in the portfolio. Never be afraid to question new product lines or planogram advice you're given. After all, product success varies hugely from store to store, and you're the only person that knows what your customers want to buy.
Finally, it's important to remember that manufacturers learn just as much from your feedback as you do from them, so make sure your opinion is heard, as it could even go on to help other retailers - not just you.

Want extra support?



With competition in the convenience market becoming increasingly fierce, many retailers are looking for that little bit of extra support. This is where symbol groups can provide the solution.
There are currently 13,035 symbol group retailers in the UK, with those groups having just over a 33% share of sales in the convenience sector. With this stronghold brings a degree of stability for independent retailers.
There are many advantages in joining a symbol group. Not only do you receive ongoing advice, from how to equip your store right through to staff training, but you also receive ongoing marketing material, promotions to attract customers and delivery of products to your store, saving time that may previously have been spent on regular visits to the wholesaler.
There are many groups out there, but choose wisely. All companies' offers are different, so select one that most suits what you're looking for. The Association of Convenience Stores, IGD and Convenience Store provide details of the main symbol groups available to join, so this would be a good place to start.

Staying independent



If joining a symbol group isn't for you, it doesn't mean that you don't have a support network around you. As well as assistance from manufacturers, wholesalers are also extending the services they offer independent retailers. While cash & carries used to simply provide a warehouse full of products to keep retailers' shelves stocked up, they have evolved and now provide far more added value.
Services such as door-to-door delivery, internet shopping and customer advice lines are now available. This additional support means that you have the extra time to focus on what's most important - managing your business.

Valuable advice


Alex MacHutchon, communications manager at The Wrigley Company, says: "The central theme of Duncan's advice is all about providing support, which is core to any retailer/supplier relationship. You have overall control on what products to stock and how to run your business on a day-to-day basis, but what suppliers and manufacturers can do is provide a steer on all categories in-store, equipping you with the right information to make an informed decision on product ranges and merchandising. After all, there is no point re-inventing the wheel if the information is already available. At Wrigley, we pride ourselves on providing the most comprehensive information, not just on our products, but also on the category as a whole. As well as our sales force, we have a dedicated trade website (www.wrigley-trade.co.uk) for information relating to the mouth-freshening category."

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