Retailers have called on manufacturers to adopt smarter ways of working with stores, rather than scaling back physical visits by sales reps.

The appeal follows the news (C-Store, August 30) that Imperial Tobacco is to replace personal calls at some stores with a new telephone service.

The move was criticised by a number of store owners, with many urging Imperial and other manufacturers to focus on stores that wanted visits, and to call at more “appropriate” times.

“Imperial is not the only manufacturer doing this,” said Premier retailer Dan Cock of Whitstone Stores in Holsworthy, Devon. “Obviously, in these challenging times companies are looking to cut costs, but there are better ways of going about that. A phone call is not the answer. The physical visits just need be timed better so they suit both parties.

“Last week I had a call from a well-known manufacturer’s rep who no longer visits, but expected me to stand by my chiller and talk him through my range. I just didn’t have the time, and ended the call,” Dan added.

Nisa Local retailer Kishor Patel said a request system would ensure that reps were “not turning up when not wanted, or making unnecessary journeys when the retailer or managers were not at the store”.

HIM’s Sales Force Optimisation 2013 survey recently revealed that midday and evenings were retailers’ least favoured times for a sales rep to visit them, while just over 60% of retailers said that monthly visits from reps were “enough”.

JTI sales reps aim to visit “every four weeks” with some stores receiving more contact “based on their size and volume”, JTI head of sales Andy Stevens told C-Store. JTI also encourages retailers to call its careline to arrange supplementary visits.

Mondelēz International trade communications manager Susan Nash said it structured calls and frequency to “optimise the benefits to the retailer”.