by Steve King, President, Pet Industry Distributors Association

Independent pet retailers are fighting an uphill battle every day. Mass market retailers are devoting increasing amounts of shelf space to pet products sold at discount prices by clerks who wouldn’t know a hamster from a guinea pig. Brands that have been pioneered and championed for years by pet specialty stores are bought by consumer product giants who slot the products in every supermarket in the country. Internet retailers continue to take a bite out of brick and mortar store sales with the added advantage of low overhead and often no sales tax. How do you keep from pulling the covers over your head when the alarm goes off each morning?

Fortunately, pet specialty retailers aren’t alone in this fight for survival. Their local pet product distributor is a powerful ally whose success is dependent on healthy and vibrant pet stores. Distributors’ businesses are built on providing products and service to hundreds of retail customers who collectively form a convenient, knowledgeable and value-driven source of pets and pet products for discriminating consumers. Are you taking full advantage of these and other services that your distributors provide?

Product Selection—Distributors ensure visibility of a wide variety of products that you may not have seen or haven’t had time to check out. Distributors’ buyers are constantly evaluating new products to add to their inventory. With many full-line distributors carrying more than 15,000 SKU’s from several hundred manufacturers, they have an endless variety of unique items to help make your store stand out from the mass merchants and big boxes. Distributors change their inventory by as much as 20% each year, ensuring that you have a plentiful supply of new products to keep customers coming back into your store on a regular basis.

Brokerage of Co-op Dollars—Pet product manufacturers make thousands of co-op dollars available each year to help retailers promote their products. Most retailers have a difficult time keeping track of all the promotions available, let alone managing the sometimes arcane requirements to qualify for co-op funds. Your distributor is an ideal broker of co-op funding, helping you negotiate the maze of promos and ensuring that you get the funding you are entitled to.

Develop Marketing Plans—How you market your store can be as important as the products you stock. Yet marketing—and the tools needed to do it effectively—is not every retailer’s strong suit. Most pet store owners cannot afford to hire a full-time marketing professional and marketing consultants can be expensive. Many distributors have full-time marketing managers that are available to help you frame your message and promote your brand. Take advantage of this often overlooked service.

Create In-Store Programs & Promos—Featuring specials and creating attractive displays are critical elements in attracting customers and keeping them coming back to your store. From point of purchase displays to eye-catching signage and end-cap layout, your distributor has the expertise and experience to help you plan and execute in-store programs and promos. Your distributor can also let you know weeks in advance when certain products will be on special, allowing you to tie sales to special in-store events.

Consistent Delivery Schedule—You can’t sell what you don’t have in stock and knowing when you will have a product to sell can be just as important. Distributors exist to provide their customers with a consistent supply of products when and where you need them. Relying on brokers or direct shipping manufacturers can be a dicey proposition for fast turning items. Distributors are in-stock on most such items an astonishing 95-99% of the time on average. And because they are local, you get delivery in a matter of hours, not days or weeks.

A Trusted Partner—Your distributor should be a trusted resource for your business. The distributor sales person or customer service rep is an excellent source of business intelligence. It is their job to know what consumer trends are driving sales and what brands are hot sellers. Tap into that knowledge base when planning your promotions and product mix. When problems arise that tax your resources, turn to your distributor for solutions based on their interaction with hundreds of customers, many of whom have faced the same challenges.

Competition for the pet owner’s dollar has never been as fierce. Independent pet retailers need every advantage they can find to remain viable in today’s marketplace. A strong distributor relationship, built on trust and an understanding of each other’s business needs, is a critical component in every retailer’s success. Make sure you are utilizing all the tools that your distributor has available to keep you in the game. 6

Steve King is president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association, which represents wholesaler-distributors of pet products and the manufacturers that go to market through this channel.