The New Retail Relationship – Consumer, Retailer, and Vendor
Why learning this new skill is critical in retail operations
There’s a new relationship in retail operations emerging and no one has written the rules yet. From the explosion of same-day delivery to new operating models, it’s not hard to see just how dramatically the working relationship between vendor and retailer has changed. New challenges and opportunities in retail have also impacted the way that our role, at Jacobs, as representatives needs to evolve.
In the past, our fundamental role as a manufacturer representative was primarily to get meetings with the retailer in the hopes of getting product on the shelves. Making appointments and fostering a relationship to lead to more meetings, more coffees, and more lunches seemed like the way to grow business, however, with shifting demands in retailer strategies and operating efficiencies, this approach leaves out critical components of growing brands in the 21st century: a deep understanding of diverse modern consumers, executing in multiple shopping channels, and focusing on total category growth (not just a single brand). This tug-of-war of beliefs between vendors who believe more time with a buyer leads to more sales versus the retailer wanting less time doesn’t need to be viewed as a game of winners and losers, but can be solved by focusing on a different skill in business leadership.
What is our common goal
Since we work with both the brands that sell to Target and Target itself, we believe a new skill in empathy needs to be sharpened. Leading with empathy can transform the way organizations develop products, services, processes, and strategy. Jackie Gibney, President of Jacobs, explains, “In the end, vendors and Target both want to deliver what the guest wants, drive sales and be profitable. However it can show up differently - while Target wants things concise, customized and specific to their guest, the vendor may not be set up to do that. However if we focus on the common goal…The why vs the how, the relationship becomes far more productive, and fun”. Empathy isn’t about hugs and happy hour — it’s about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. The innovative companies that we admire are experts at empathizing with customers and exploring what their pain is, and acting on it to create a highly desired solution. “The one thing that is absolutely the same with retailers and vendors is that they want results and to grow brands,” adds Jackie.
Forcing your beliefs about how business works, onto another rarely results in productive relationships. Like building any new muscle, building empathy, and doing things differently then you always have with working with retailers, takes practice and effort. It isn’t always easy and comfortable because the way we do things (or used to do things) have been engrained in our education, training, and operating models. The good news is, when you focus on the common goal, and are willing to change how you get there, the results can be huge. People will want to work with you, they’ll want to connect with you more, and you’ll run further than your competition.