Wednesday, June 25, 2008

All clothing is NOT created equal

You are a distributor (go with me here... it's a thought process). Your customer shows you a shirt and you immediately think 'this is why I hate clothing sales'.

"I bought this at Sears," he says. "Get more for me." (By the way, what he really means is that you need to get them for him cheaper).

Of course you can find them. You're super-sales person. You have experience, the ASI reference manuals at your fingertips and you can do anything. And two hours later, you are concluding that this is a complete waste of your time.

The reason you can't locate the exact same brand and color combination and set of styles or materials is simple. The shirt your customer bought was retail. The catalogs you have been searching through are corporate wholesale. And mostly, the twain shall not meet.

Retail apparel sells way better than its corporate counterparts and is far more profitable to the sellers. If you happen to locate the exact same style in a mill brand (that is, one of the major manufacturers like Hanes or Jerzees), then it probably means that the customer got the item on closeout and the emphasis on the marketing of that particular shirt is now shifting to those of us in the other part of their marketing network. We, the wholesalers and distributors to the corporate market, get the leftovers or standard stock items that don't cut into their more lucrative markets.

Pretty cheesy, huh? And it seems kind of unfair, especially if you're trying to make a living at this horrible business we so affectionately call "trinkets and trash".

Fortunately, bravery and a little bit of soft selling can get you through. And some perseverance.

All will not be sugar-coated. You simply cannot find some apparel if it is purely retail and you may never be able to price it at a lower price even if you do happen to locate it. We go back to the idea that retail sales are far more profitable than we corporate folks ever will be. There is the volume sold through retailers. Way big. This leads, of course, comes the volume of purchases that stores can make as opposed to the six or eight pieces at a time that we can. Seems like we may not be able to get a good deal that might just beat our rather retail competitors.

We're kind of stuck at times. Even offering to try to find something similar is daunting, although it is the job we do.

Sadly, there is no easy solution. The only truly successful approach I have ever taken has been to be honest with the customer and to have more knowledge. If they want to buy from, say, Land's End, it is fine. We can't. If they buy from some other retail location, again, that is all well and good. As a service, we will get the goods decorated. Otherwise, we really don't have a lot more advice to offer.

On the other hand, there are way more customers who understand and they are the ones who get the most attention. Go find a few more of them.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Yes, I DO rant

Today's rant is about trust. It occurs to me that business in general is based on it. Forget the long-term supply contract, the written non-compete, the long and verbose tomes that are best kept in a safe deposit box and never spoken of because they will somehow activate and cause lawsuits of epic proportion (I always enjoy using that phrase).

Trust is about how things are done.

This particular topic arises because after three years with my credit card processing company, I have changed once more. The contract terminates this month and the processing company will be no longer. Enter new folks. They get their chance.

Why did I do this? Easy enough to explain. In a roundabout manner anyway.

We receive, as do most businesses and homes, enormous numbers of letters and solicitations, many from credit card companies, processors and advertisers. Most are not even reviewed. Most are filed in the round bin.

In January of this year, for reasons unknown, and probably because I was bored, I happened to open a note from our soon-to-be future card processing company. The note was all in fine print. It stated that, due to reasons to be explained later, they were raising our processing fee for one particular card by seventy five (75) percent (%). No explanation other than the fact that the rate was going up.

Had I not read the fine print, I probably would not have noticed this.

Fortunately, I did. I then called the processor and asked why they were doing this. They could not give a reasonable answer. After that, I requested a review and suggested that the fees they had earned last year were reasonable (hey, it's a lot of money running through the accounts!) and that they were about to lose my business if they didn't change their tune.

Usually, that is enough. Except that even though the processing company did indeed lower my rates and not make any changes, I was placed in a position of distrust. I knew that I had been treated this way once and that it was likely to happen once more. I also realized that it would be necessary forever into the future to review every single piece of mail, junk appearing or not, for my processor, just to make sure that they didn't pull some sneaky switch later on.

All for trust. Or a lack thereof.

This causes me to review our own (Team Mates) practices. Are we trustworthy? Do we ever attempt to do anything that brings on a feeling of mistrust?

Just wondering. Always.

Friday, June 6, 2008

A little bit of Philosophy

I am not well-read, at least in the classics area, although I do read an awful lot of trashy mystery books and such. One must entertain oneself after all.

But I get to thinking about business in general and Team Mates in particular and come up with some interesting ideas (well, maybe).

One of them is that business should be fun. Yes, it really should be.

I wrote an email reply to a client today. It was just the slightest bit caustic, but there was a point to it. The reply was a response to a demand for credit. Anyone who has ever been in business for a few years gets those sorts of, well, orders. "If you want to do business with me, you'll give me net 60 days". And, of course, they really look promising on the outside. Lots of business, even maybe a credit application that looks like they have tons of good references.

There are little signs, though. The way that the instruction is given. "You WILL give me credit." Definitely a bad sign. "I have thirty thousand dollars worth of orders to place. Don't you want them?" Gotta think about that one. Especially if business overall is down. "I always pay my bills." Oh, that's fabulous. So when?

How about this for an appropriate beginning to a new business relationship.

"Do you have a credit app? And I don't mind paying this right away in order to establish credit with you."

Expectations. I mean, give me at least a little bit of a break here. We have expectations and we even, should the need arise, do our best to raise the level of our customers' education in embroidery, to work with them to give the very best of service, and even to make them smile on occasion.

Which brings me full circle. New customer responses to simple questions like, "We don't normally do net thirty on a first order" are key to the establishment of a good business relationship and the future fun we can have. I really don't enjoy coming in to work and finding a pile of past due receiveables on my desk. I really hate struggling to make payroll while some person sits on my hard-earned cash or struggles because he's too lazy to call and collect from his customers.

Just the way it goes, I think. And today, the letter I wrote? Not all that complimentary. Hidden hopes that maybe the potential new customer might take all those huge orders down the road. Because his responses to my questions regarding credit just didn't make me feel happy. And that's my story. It is Friday. I want to be happy.