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My Lights Went Out, Call The Plumber!

As you may imagine, I get into a lot of conversations about independent paint retailers.

Having just returned from the AllPro show, I’m on independent dealer overload!

It’s interesting to me though, that we are all lumped together as we are into one category: independent paint dealer. That description, which makes us seem like one large homogenous group fails to grasp the amount of diversity among us.

In-fact, we are far from one homogenous group.

At these shows I have a tendency to walk around and introduce myself to lots of dealers. Occupational hazard I guess, but also a necessity. With my blog, podcasts and consulting, I position myself as an “industry expert”. I feel like I need to actually try and be one and these shows are a great place to get my practice in!

What struck me this show is how very diverse the universe of independent paint retailers really is. Over the four days I spent at the AllPro show, I met dealers of many sizes and shapes. I met dealers who had a single store and dealers who had over 50! I met dealers with 4 stores doing $3,000,000 in sales and dealers with one store doing $10,000,000!

Clearly, those dealers are not all having the same experiences.

This show, I spent a lot of time with a single store dealer from the South. He was mostly a decorating store who sells more wallpaper, blinds and the like than paint! While paint is clearly an important part of his business, his decorating business is what drives his bus.

I also had dinner one night with the owner of a 50+ store chain. Speaking about his business, he had a very different perspective than my single-store paint and decorating friend.

Imagine going into a clothing store needing a shirt. You find someone to help you, you select the shirt you like and ask for your size. “I’m sorry”, says the store clerk. “That only comes in medium!”

At 6 feet 2 inches and 215 pounds, that’s not good news for me!

It’s not good news for the rest of us either. Programs designed to aid a 20-store chain in adding to their store count, will do little to help me grow my pot-and-brush painter business in my two stores.

For the big guys, they have the same problems I’m sure: they get offered a box of posters for store decorations when what they really need is better vendor software integration because they’re spending too much time (and money) placing orders.

Manufacturers will tell you that it’s too big of a burden to treat us all individually. They also like to say things like the law requires them to treat us all the same to avoid legal action based on claims of discrimination.

There’s some truth to that, but there’s some cop-out too!

It’s true that it would be an enormous burden to design programs for each dealer individually and anyway, I’m not saying that that’s what’s needed!

But when I sit down with a vendor to explain what needs I may have, I don’t want to be speaking at the same time as some 50-store chain. Our needs are NOT going to be the same AND mine are going to be drowned out by the larger volume opportunities.

If manufacturers try to handle us all as one group: independent retailers-they miss the opportunity to help the quieter group while they are servicing the loudest.

Still though, despite our many differences there are certainly similarities. Those similarities can be ascertained and dealers that are similar can be programmed for: similarly and simultaneously. It would make for a much better investment of the money that manufacturers spend on dealer support.

If you’re a single store dealership selling almost exclusively premium products to retail customers, issues of price support and exclusivity mean more to you. If you have 50 stores and you’re trying to beat back Sherwin in your market, you have cost and credit issues that smaller dealers just cannot relate to. But often these two dealers get offered the same programmatic support.

Programs from manufacturers should reflect the diversity in the dealer network. It’s the best way to get the most for their investment dollars and a diversity of options is more likely to cause success.

It makes no more sense to give me chemotherapy to treat a bee sting than it does to give a single location-decorating store a truckload discount! Let’s see paint manufacturers start matching the treatments with the needs!

Next week, I'll be dropping another episode of my podcast: "Mark, My Words." I taped it on the floor of the AllPro show and it contains short interviews with about 15 dealers and vendors right from the show floor. I think that you'll enjoy hearing it and I'm excited to get it out to you.


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