2015 was volatile for bike retail and for a particularly unlucky few who were hit by the December floods, went from bad to worse. Unsurprisingly, then, we received some strongly worded responses when we asked bike shops for their take on their relationships with distributors, often seen as key to shop performance in the competitive sector.
Communication is key in any partnership. And while this feature deals with the opinions of just one side of this bike trade collaboration, there’s honest and sometimes heartfelt insight on how these important trade partnerships are performing and could improve.
In a crowded market where brands have more routes to reach the end consumer, it’s more vital than ever for shops and distributors alike to nail these relationships. And maybe there’s even some insight for those bike trade companies outside the distributor/ shop model.
HOW HELPFUL IS YOUR MAIN DISTRIBUTION PARTNER?
The big positive news here is that the vast majority of shops believe that their distribution partner is at least helpful. While those who said their distribution partner was very helpful was very slightly down on last year (44 per cent in 2014, 42 per cent in 2015), those saying their main distribution partner was helpful grew (35 per cent in 2014, 39 per cent in 2015). At the other end of the scale, the number of ‘awful’ main distributor partners fell from two per cent in 2014 to zero in 2015.
One respondent complained that “most distributors are not interested in single shops” while another said there was room for improvement: “All distribution partners could do better. If I were to treat customers who come through my door in the same way as I am treated by some of my suppliers (despite spending thousands with them), I would make no sales at all.”
WHAT FRUSTRATES YOU MOST ABOUT DISTRIBUTORS?
Are bike trade distributors nailing stock levels? Last year over half of respondents said low stock levels was most frustrating, while this time around the percentage was just 41. This time around, lack of loyalty to small accounts was top of the gripes (second last year with 41 per cent). Accordingly, pricing also jumped up to become the third biggest frustration (up from fourth last year). Returns policy slipped down the list of frustrations (down from 26 per cent to 17 per cent).
While stock was more readily available for bike shops, even the most charitable soul would be forced to concede that this was partly accidental and due to oversupply in the industry, something that was picked up by respondents: “Now that they all have huge unsold stocks they are offering even longer extended terms to dealers that are slashing prices and damaging the more professional shops who pay their bills on time!”
Others blasted distributors for “doing deals to clear stock with non-IBDS” and not giving a “shit if the products they supply us are being devalued online.”
Despite all that, there were still some stock issues highlighted, particularly in a lack of clarity on the finer points: “Not being told, at time of order, that certain parts which are required for a job, are on backorder. So for instance a groupset arrives but with essential parts missing.”
Picking up on the pricing issue again, familiar complaints over “big hitters selling at trade or lower when we are supposedly on the ‘best’ pricing available” were aired in our survey. Carriage costs were pin-pointed too, particularly on small orders. One retailer commented: “Why should I pay £12.00 plus VAT for a parcel I can send for £3.00 inclusive?”
One shop picked out lack of contact as a key frustration: “Lack of communication is a big thing. I have less and less reps call on me now to highlight new lines and offers and show me new products. I do not have time to wade through and digest emails sent over on an ad hoc basis, I am too busy trying to sell to my customers.”
A similar communication-based complaint came from one of the shops, annoyed at “poor product knowledge, stemming from the use of non cycling call takers.”
More generally, one survey respondent picked out the growing importance of customer service: “Suppliers are getting much harder to deal with. At a time when service is the crucial differentiator in the market they are letting us down by saying ‘no’ more often.”
There’s room for one final comment, warning that failing to look after brands and shops could backfire: “Protect your brands or the IBD will source brands that are protected and your business will fail.”
All on and off the record responses are welcome BikeBiz@nbmedia.com