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Are True Independents Being Snubbed?

At this year's Global Pet Expo, one small pet retailer got the sense that many manufacturers didn’t think single-store retailers were worth their time.



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Being the loyal readers I’m sure you all are, you know of my love of industry trade shows. They are wonderful places to meet people, learn more about products and just get a vibe of our industry. The show that always kicks it off is Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., in March.

On the first day of the show, I felt like a teenager waiting on a bus to take me to the first day of school. I was excitedly nervous about what I would see and hear. I could hardly wait to see my friends who I only see a few times a year. I also was pondering what my food choices would be at lunch.

Global Pet Expo was good, but some things really bothered me. I got the sense that the true mom-and-pop stores were being frowned upon. For example, I always keep my tradeshow badge low to the side where it’s not easy for a salesperson to read. The badge lists if you are a multistore owner or not. On more than one occasion, a manufacturer’s representative asked me how many stores I have within seconds of meeting me. I didn’t get the sense that they were just getting to know me. It came across that they were trying to qualify how much time they spent with me. “Single store owner—not really worth my time” is the vibe I got from a lot of manufacturers.

I got the sense that the true mom-and-pop stores were being frowned upon. On more than one occasion, a manufacturer’s representative asked me how many stores I have within seconds of meeting me. It came across that they were trying to qualify how much time they spent with me. “Single store owner—not really worth my time” is the vibe I got from a lot of manufacturers.

Even manufacturers that market “exclusively for the independent pet channel” seem to be looking for that independent channel that has a dozen stores or so. This even was the case with a manufacturer that had left the independent channel and was now trying to come back saying “no big box and no e-commerce.”

I also learned at this show about a change to a frequent feeder program of a brand I sell, at least right now. This brand has decided only “approved” retailers can offer a frequent feeder program. This means the manufacturer will be pushing customers to leave one store to go buy from a competitor in order to be part of the frequent feeder program. I love this company’s food, but there is no way I’m going to support or recommend a brand that doesn’t recommend my store. I can’t believe someone thought this was a good idea.

Even manufacturers that market “exclusively for the independent pet channel” seem to be looking for that independent channel that has a dozen stores or so. This even was the case with a manufacturer that had left the independent channel and was now trying to come back saying “no big box and no e-commerce.”

As if I wasn’t seeing and hearing enough depressing news at this show for the independent stores, I learned one major pet food manufacturer’s participation in Amazon’s Dash Button is doing better than expected. And this is a manufacturer that touts how much it loves independent stores.

Amazon’s Dash Button is a little wireless button linked to a product sold on Amazon. A customer puts the button someplace convenient such as next to the pet food bin, and when they see that they are low on food, they simply press the button. An order automatically is placed through Amazon, and the product is shipped to the customer’s door. It started with Tide and has since grown to more than 100 products, with several in the pet category.

I had heard a long time ago about pet food coming to the Dash Button program, but I really didn’t think it would take off. After hearing the buzz at Global, I did some research. One article I read said this company has about a 3 percent share of the button program. When you think about the fact that Amazon says Dash Button orders occur more than once a minute, that’s probably a huge number.

As if I wasn’t seeing and hearing enough depressing news at this show for the independent stores, I learned one major pet food manufacturer’s participation in Amazon’s Dash Button is doing better than expected. And this is a manufacturer that touts how much it loves independent stores.

There was a small silver lining at the show. Because so many of the manufacturers were taking the “micro stores are not worth our time” mentality, it really made the ones that wanted our business stand out. You expect the small manufacturers that are trying to just get in the market to woo us, but there were a couple of large manufacturers that stood out on marketing to the true independent channel.

One of the brightest points for me occurred on the last day. I was making my last round through the aisles when I made eye contact with a salesperson standing in a pet shampoo booth. We exchanged smiles, and he asked if I deal in pet shampoo. Because part of my business is a grooming salon, I wandered into his booth, and he asked if I knew their products. I said that I did know the products but had never purchased them because of the company’s distribution network. This product is sold on “wholesale” websites anyone can buy from. I told him it didn’t seem right to my bottom line if anybody with a computer could get the same price.

He immediately explained that with the volume those websites do, there would be no way he could be competitive selling directly to me. He then talked about comparing the prices I can buy their products at to the products I currently purchase. He said he thought his prices would be very competitive, and he believed his product to be far superior and explained why. I was impressed by the conversation, and I wasn’t that surprised when he handed me his card and it said “president” on it. He had passion for the product he was selling. Even though his company is a multimillion-dollar business, he wanted me buying his product not because it was going to help his bottom line but because it’s a good product. A few days later, a box arrived at my store full of his products for me to try.

A few interactions like that at a tradeshow can really erase a lot of negative—maybe not sending my customer to another store negative—but a lot.

 

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. He is a regular contributor to Pet Product News.

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