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The One Question Pet Retailers Need to Ask Their Manufacturer Reps


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If a sales rep can’t answer this particular question, you might want to pass on the offer.

Salespeople can either bring you the next best thing since sliced bread, or they can waste your time. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell which is which until you have invested too much time in the conversation. 

Most micro independent pet store owners sell products they believe in. These are products we have found on our own, researched and made the decision to give shelf space to. 

Salespeople need to understand that when they come into my store with a new product, they are most likely trying to replace a product I have hand selected. Let’s face it: There is rarely anything truly new in the pet industry. Most of what we find is just a copy of something else. Sometimes that can be a better version than the original, but often it is simply just a copy. The last thing I want in my store is a copy. 

I don’t need or want five brands of yak milk chews, for example. I have one brand, and it is a brand I have researched and trust. Recently, a salesperson approached me about his yak milk chews. His chews looked like all the others, had similar ingredients and were made much like the others; however, there were differences. His chews had a cleaner ingredient panel and were manufactured a little differently, and he had a nice back story. I decided to bring in his product and discontinue my original line of yak milk chews. When customers come in to purchase chews, they will notice the difference, and I will get to explain why I switched brands and why I’m so excited about the new product. That conversation will remind customers I am out to find only the best products for their pets.

In order to ensure salespeople don’t waste my time, I start with a question that immediately tells me the level of salesperson I am dealing with and if I want to continue to spend my valuable time with them. The question is: “How are you going to sell this product in my store?” To me it’s a very easy question, but I watch salespeople stumble over it all the time. Usually the answer is a pitch on the quality of the product, but that’s not what I asked, so I ask my question again. If I continue to get the talking points, I thank them and try to get them out of my store. I have had salespeople ask me to explain my question and I will, but I probably won’t go with their product. I’m looking for partners who want to be in my store and know the answer.

When I ask this question, I am looking for a response along these lines: “We are running several different types of media campaigns that lead the viewers to our website where you will be listed. We have some co-op dollars and can work with you on advertisements that you think would be appropriate for your store, and we have plenty of free product that we would be happy to give your customers as a token of our appreciation of them changing brands.” 

Years ago, I had a conversation with a salesperson of canned food. His answer was, “I’m going to give every person who walks in your store for the next month a free can. No coupons, no games—just hand every customer a can.” 

That was an excellent start with me because that salesperson was trying to turn my customers into can buyers. By offering a can to every single customer, I reached a few customers who had not wanted to use cans up until that point because they were worried their dogs would get used to the canned fare and not eat their dry food. That allowed me to have a conversation about toppers, rotation and feeding techniques. While he did not draw new buyers into my store, he converted some of my existing customers into can buyers, which is almost just as good. 

Years ago, I knew what I wanted to sell, and I went to great lengths to get it. I didn’t care if the manufacturer was behind me or not, because I loved the product and I wanted to only sell the best. Times are a lot different now; there are dozens of manufacturers making a superior product rather than just one or two. Ask each one of these companies, “How are you going to sell this product in my store?” and I bet you can easily find the brand that you want to partner with.

Shelf space is the most valuable commodity you have in your store. It must do a lot more than just hold a bag. It’s providing rent, utilities and payroll. Stop wasting space on products from companies indifferent to you and your store. 


B.C. Henschen is a well-known champion for pet owners who want the best in their pet’s food. He is the Association for Truth in Pet Food (ATPF) consumer advocate at Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), serving on the Pet Food Ingredient Definition Committee, and is a director with the World Pet Association (WPA). Henschen is a popular speaker at industry events and meetings. A certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, he 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.

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