Greg Seminara, Export Solutions

Every export manager and salesman puts on their best smile when meeting with the buyer at a major supermarket chain. We bend over backwards to be flexible to meet their costly demands, all in the questionable spirit of partnership. In return for our loyalty, supermarket buyers focus on total category sales, private label, and maximizing internal profits by playing several brands against each other.

In other cases, we maintain adversarial “love- hate” relationships with our international distributors.
We love them when they persevere for a breakthrough sale or achieve their annual sales quota. We blame the distributor for slow sales, delisted items, out of stocks, high prices, low prices, or any of the hundred imperfections that may occur in the world of consumer packaged goods.

I must admit that frequently I have been guilty of kissing the ring of the supermarket buyer while grilling my distributor like an underperforming sales representative. In reality, I should view my distributor as my most important customer. A distributor serves as your “buyer” for an entire country, not just a few stores. Distributors may not be perfect, but they are your chosen partner in brand building.Consider the below facts.

1. Distributor is loyal, concerned with building your brand, not every brand in the category.

2. Brands and Distributors share common goals. When the distributor sells more, you sell more.

3. Distributors back your brand with their own funds. Some distributors make personal bank guarantees to source funds to pay your invoices.

4. Distributors believe in your brands and they believe in you ! They are investing their own money and resources to support your brand and ideas.

5. Successful distributors are like family, with relationships extending for 10, 20 years or more.
Buyers may change, but many passionate distributors represent the long term “face” of your brand in their country.

Companies strive to be viewed as a preferred vendor by their buyers.
Similarly, exporters should endeavor to achieve a similar status with their distributors.
Apply the same principles of outstanding customer service to your distributors.
Keep the supply chain filled, create innovative new items, invest in marketing, and pay invoices promptly. Importantly, write your distributor a periodic note of thanks, mail him a book , or invite him and his wife out to dinner during your next visit.

Treat your distributor network as your “preferred” buyers. Extend them the same type of respect, flexibility, and patience that you would provide to your largest retail customers. A distributor who knows that you value his business will reward you with increased effort and new sales.