Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Big Fish, Small Pond

Q: Debbie: I know you've touched on this subject a bit already on your blog... but I was
wondering if you could give me any more advice on this specific issue:

I am in the planning process of opening a small retail boutique in my small town. I had what I thought was a pretty solid list of vendors that I wanted to use and that no one else in town was carrying. In the meantime, another boutique in town has all of a sudden started carrying literally every vendor that is known to man. I hear it's because she plans on opening a variety of specialty stores in the near future. She's attempting to tie up any and all vendors. The visual style of store I am planning on opening is very different than her store. Is crossover on some product acceptable or should I start all over in regards to finding product that would fit my
brand? Help! Much appreciation.

A: First, if this other store owner is a real concern or threat to you, call or write her a sincere letter and say you'd like to take her to lunch and discuss vendors as "you do not want to overlap or be competitors." She should immediately respect you for this and hopefully agree. Come prepared with a list of vendors and items you desire to sell. Negotiate some things if possible. For instance: If you both want the same vendor maybe you only buy the bath products in white and she buys in blue. Or you sell the frames and she sells the candlesticks. On the other hand, I actually like to leave this dirty work to the rep. I will complain to the manufacturer long before a store owner as they should be watching for territory protection. Recently a store across the street wanted to open with a line I have (but I do not buy consistently from) so I agreed via the rep they could sell it as I was tired of the line but- they had one product I couldn't find anywhere else (drawer liners). So I told the rep they could buy whatever they wanted except this one item. I think it worked out fine as the line has dozens of other products to choose from.

If this woman is on a mission to take any and all good vendors and she has the money to do it, you may be out of luck. On the other hand- if you are certain your style is different than her store(s), if you feel confident you are going to do it better than she will, then stick to your guns. Build your clientele based on your unique style while keeping your nose down. Buy what you want and do your best to display it more uniquely. Sometimes paying too much attention to your competition takes your eye off your own business.

Finally, you should ALWAYS be looking for great merchandise that no one else has. This will forever be your challenge. Not just for the competition, but more importantly- for your customers. Good luck! Deb

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