If you have a choice, do you order a product through a distributor or directly from the manufacturer?
If a product is available through my normal distribution lines, I’m going to order it that way. It is just so easy, and, in fact, most micro independents see a distributor truck on a regular basis. We can get a variety of products delivered to our store, usually with a nominal delivery charge. We don’t have to worry about making minimums with individual brands, and distributors will even help us with additional discounts or support when we are bringing in a new line. When everything goes as planned, distributors make our lives easier.
Still, things don’t always go as planned.
If you name an issue with a distributor, every micro independent has probably experienced it. What really frustrates me are the exclusive agreements distributors have with manufacturers that prohibit me from taking my business elsewhere. With that being said, I do understand the frustrations distributors have with micro independents. We can be challenging to deal with, and the distributors aren’t exactly making a fortune off of us as, in most cases, they aren’t sending us huge pallets each week.
Recently, one of my distributors stopped carrying a few products from one of my supplement manufacturers. I would rather a distributor discontinue an entire line than just some of it. That means I’m going to have to find a new source for those missing products. Many times, the new source will have minimums, so I end up having to switch more items to the new distributor. Another distributor equals another delivery date and another truck to deal with. Soon, it becomes difficult to keep track of all of the distributors. I receive more trucks and deal with more distributors than I did when I worked for a big-box pet supply store, which I find amazing.
I called the manufacturer to complain about the changes its distributor had made. The manufacturer asked me why I was not buying directly. Like many of the smaller specialized manufacturers, this firm sells directly to retailers as well as through distributors. I replied that I thought the small manufacturers preferred that retailers buy through distributors because that could help cement their distributor relationship and potentially help their brands grow in other markets. Because I don’t do a ton of business in the company’s line, I asked if small orders wouldn’t be a hassle for the company.
The manufacturer said the higher margin it would make by selling directly to me absolutely offsets the “hassles.” As far as increasing its numbers with distributors, the manufacturer went on to explain that this used to be a valid point but that it isn’t anymore.
Just as I was experiencing with this distributor, many distributors are thinning out the slower-moving products, and many are dropping entire lines of products. It’s really no surprise that many of those items are the products micro independents highly recommend. At the end of the conversation, I promised to buy all of the company’s products directly. However, the manufacturer did not want me to name him in this column. I asked, “Why the secrecy?” You would think the company would want me to shout it from the rooftops. The manufacturer said that although the company would prefer retailers to purchase direct, it still wishes to have relationships with distributors, so the company cannot be suggesting retailers buy direct.
I must admit when I made the agreement to purchase directly from the manufacturer, I thought “that’s going to be a pain.” It might not be the hassle of dealing with another semi in my parking lot, but it’s still going to be a separate order and delivery fees, and I won’t get the products as quickly. It’s pretty quick and easy just to have a distributor throw a couple bottles on to my weekly truck. It was at that point I realized I was thinking the exact thing I hear every day: “Micro independents are not convenient and cost more.”
These small manufacturers are micro independents that are battling against the multimillion-dollar conglomerate manufacturers just like micro independent retailers are battling against the huge conglomerate retailers. If you look closely at most of these micro independent manufacturers, you are going to see another similarity to us: They are in this industry because they want to help pets live longer, healthier lives. The passion and the knowledge a micro independent has adds a value that outweighs any of the negatives and applies to our micro independent manufacturers as well.
If you can buy directly from your favorite small manufacturers, please do. I certainly think you will find much value in helping the micro independent manufacturing segment survive, which, in turn, is helping us survive.
B.C. Henschen, a certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, is a partner in Platinum paws, a full-service pet salon and premium pet food store in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet food industry makes Platinum Paws the go-to store for pet owners who want more for their pet than a bag off a shelf.
This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Pet Product News.