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Orders - even big ones - are not a relationship

1st Jun 2008 , Ed

This is a time of change. Imports are more difficult and more expensive. Business is tough at retail. Economic and political indicators, from the petrol price to Zimbabwe, are negative.

It’s also a time when chain retailers are looking to source more footwear from local manufacturers again. After years of ignoring them – or worse – they’re back, and finding that it takes time to re-establish relationships. This is the part where I’d really like to say a few things about how poorly retailers – chain retailers, anyway – have treated local manufacturing, but, on reflection, what’s the point? There’s an element of glass houses in this – every company imports something, and quite often at the expense of a local equivalent. More importantly, though, I hesitate because discretion is probably – if not the better – at least the wiser part of valour. Therefore let’s talk about a time of building – or rebuilding – relationships. I hear manufacturers rattle off the names of chains buyers of old who “were professional”, and “knew their market”. They were also “more loyal”. Whether they were any wiser or more loyal than the current crop of chain buyers is hard to say. The arrival of so many international brands, the fact that importing was so easy, changed the way chains did business. And if those chain buyers seem to get younger every year, perhaps it’s mostly because we’re getting older. Unquestionably some of them are miscast, but many are not, and will still be around years from now. In a tough market, the relationship between supplier and customer becomes even more important than it usually is, and my belief is that you may have to sacrifice some short-term business if you can’t see a long-term relationship with the person you’re trying to deal with. It may also mean doing business when it doesn’t make 100% sense to do so. Both parties have to feel comfortable in a relationship, and that means investing – in the relationship and in your business. Suppliers cannot afford to skimp on good insurance/forward cover – to protect their customers and themselves. And for further protection, they need to be sure they have reliable sources of supply, offering consistent quality. In the global footwear industry of which we’re all part, that means continuous traveling, following fashion trends, and having stocks of whatever components are required by retail. Information is vital, and the company that manages the supply of information, and has a good relationship with its suppliers, can maximise its opportunities. I’m always a bit hesitant about showing too much of Apeco’s hand, because we’ve had good ideas copied often enough. In broad brush strokes, though, our strategy has several aspects – knowing fashion trends, knowing our suppliers and our customers, keeping stocks of key materials, trying to take costs out of the pipeline, and doing business only when and how we feel comfortable with the deal. That’s information I don’t mind sharing. If your strategy contributes to making the industry a more stable, more profitable, happier place, I hope you’ll share that knowledge with the rest of us. - Mark Gibbings [Apeco,




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