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 Post subject: Retailer Rant
PostPosted: February 5th, 2006, 12:43 pm 
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Attention K-Mart Shoppers,

I'm getting a tiny bit miffed by all the folks on this site talking about how expensive your local retailer is compared to McGear stores like MEC, Walmart, Dick’s, Canadian Tire, etc.

Yes, the huge retail chains may have the exact same item as your local specialty retailer at a lower price. It doesn’t mean they bought it at the same price. Huge chains have buying power and the ability to put a choke hold on manufacturers and suppliers and force them to accept unfair prices for their products. Specialty retailers do not. No, that does not mean all specialty retailers stick to MSRP (Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price), but most try to stick to it due to obvious competition. But most specialty retailers can not afford to go lower than MSRP like the big retailers can.

Take this example. You paid $115.00 after tax for item X in a small retail store in Ontario. $15.00 of that goes to the government, not the store. The store’s cost on it was $65.00. So that is a $35.00 profit. Oh wait, no it isn’t. The clerk who provided you with an hours worth of excellent service needs to get paid, say $10.00. You need to pay for the shipping that brought the item to the store. You need to pay for the rent, the utilities, the insurance, the in-house handling of the item (receiving, unpacking, merchandising, tagging, entering invoices, etc). Wow, we are laughing all the way to the bank. We come away with a whopping five dollar profit, maybe. Good thing most of us like our jobs for reasons other than money.

Do you think your local gear store clerks are living like kings on your gear purchases? It never amazes me to get the old line “is this the best you can do?” from a customer who has just pulled up in a shiny new vehicle with roof racks loaded with accessory mounts, expensive clothes, and a few hundred dollars worth of jewelry on their persons. Right, you need a discount why? If you pull up to my store in a car, right away I can tell that you are doing much better than most of my store clerks. Most of the people I know who work in outdoor stores are either taking the bus, walking, or riding their bikes to work, because sadly, they can’t afford vehicles. Hell, we usually can’t afford to buy the stuff we sell, even at discount rates. Very annoying to constantly get haggled by wealthy people. Pretty frustrating when you go to the store owner to try to get a raise for your store clerks and you know you can’t because the revenue just isn’t there. Remember that next time you ask for a discount.

How about the service in the big retail chains? Some is great I’m sure. But how good will the advice on your tent or backpack be from a clerk who also needs to have “product knowledge” on baseball bats, tackle boxes, goalie masks, and snowblowers? From time to time I phone the big retailers to compare prices, availability, etc. Most of the time their product knowledge is lacking, not to mention being on hold while being transferred from department to department as they try to figure out what the heck Yak Trax are.

How about the travel time to the out of town mega retailer? How much is gas worth again?

Here’s another thing, if you spend three years hemming and hawing over you gear purchase because you are looking for the best deal, are you really doing yourself a service or are you wasting your own time? There is a generally accepted myth out there that men do not like to shop. My ass! I have seen the same male customers come back month after month, year after year, looking for the “best deal” on item X? Hey after three years of searching store to store and countless hours on the internet I saved twenty bucks! Woo-hoo! What is your time worth?

Oh yeah, then you offer free services like traveler presentations, gear clinics, and demonstration days… and some of your customers don’t even thank you. Nice.

So why do most of us stay in specialty retail? Because most customers are great people, who simply pay the price on the tag without begging for a deal like they were in a market in Morocco. Not to mention we get to talk about gear all day with nice folks. Pretty cool job at the end of the day.

Anyway, try to support your local specialty retailer. We are not evil pirates looking to gouge you.

Sorry if I was a little harsh, needed to vent.

I feel better now.

P.S.

You may fire when ready. I’m sure I will get an earful.


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 Post subject: Re: Retailer Rant
PostPosted: February 5th, 2006, 12:59 pm 
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Retail Rita wrote:
... from a customer who has just pulled up in a shiny new vehicle with roof racks loaded with accessory mounts, expensive clothes, and a few hundred dollars worth of jewelry on their persons.


Sorry Rita, didn't mean to offend at all, you are right about the need to support local retailers - but i don't think this is the crowd you have described. I don't at all mind if the people you describe pay too much for their stuff!! But the fact is, some of us have limited budgets and we like to use this forum to talk about gear and good deals and all that jazz.

[/quote]


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PostPosted: February 5th, 2006, 1:05 pm 
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dragonwolf,

No offence taken. Trust me, I know all about limited budgets.

Peace,

RR


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PostPosted: February 5th, 2006, 1:07 pm 
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Location: Toronto
Why don't you independent guys get to gether and form a buying group?

Surely most of you carry the same products, or at least products from the same vendor. The vendors are all almalgamated anyway, Johnson Outdoors etc... The advantage of being local is that you don't really compete for the same customers. Surely if you guys unify you can work out a meaningful rebate program with the vendors, and get you costs down..... Isn't there already an OASIS buying group or something?

In the industry I work in, we have the exact opposite problem. Homedepot is buying all our customers. They are moving fast to buy up the entire industry. Talk about buying power :o


Oh, resenting your customers is not a great way to ensure repeat business. Which store do you represent? I will be sure to never ask you for a discount.

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PostPosted: February 5th, 2006, 1:13 pm 
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Dan,

Please do not put words in my mouth. I do not "resent my customers". Like I said, most customers are great people, but there are exceptions. I'm sure the same can be said about most workplaces, yes?

Obviously I wish my store to remain unidentified. I also like my boss / owner and would not want to hurt her business.

RR


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PostPosted: February 5th, 2006, 1:25 pm 
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Location: Toronto
One more thing. Why try to compete with the big boxes on their own turf? A Eureka pack is a Eureka pack no matter where it comes from. The big boxes got you beat. If you are a small specialized store carry small specialized products.

Ever try to buy a wannigan, a tump line, an Ostrom pack, a sail rig, an esquif playboat, a canvass winter tent with stove, a tobbogan designed for hauling gear? The big boxes don't carry this stuff because most fashion out-doorists would'nt know what to do with a tump (neither do a lot of clerks at small stores).


BTW, the most ridicoulous of the big boxes is coast mountain sports. What the hell are they thinking? They have 3 SKUs of avalanche probes and no canoe paddles! They need to get a regional buyer and learn the local market. I don't think we have had an avalanche in ontarion in 10,000 years or so.


The point is, there is a market for specialized gear, albeit small one. There is a big market for generic goretex stuff. You guys are a small store, MEC is a big store. Form a buying group, get to gether and give the small producers some volume so they can get their costs down, and offer something unique at a good price.

Items I would like to be able to buy retail:
Mike Yee outfitting
Frost River Packs
Tump lines, leather --- not webbing with felt sewn on
Kifaru Tipi
reflector oven
portable wood stove


I don't think you guys can or should try to compete on locking gate carabiners. That is a recipe for disastor.

OTOH, even trailhead couldn't make a go of it in the GTA.... maybe there is somehthing about the market here that I don't understand.

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PostPosted: February 5th, 2006, 2:31 pm 
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Location: Calgary, Alberta
Dan. Said
Quote:
The point is, there is a market for specialized gear, albeit small one.


Dan, you just explained why smaller independant stores don't carry the items you listed. Being a small business, you can't carry items that have a small market. Ever try and pay for your rent when selling items that one person in a hundred buys? Being a smaller independant store, you need to carry the Gore-tex jackets strickly because they're a proven seller. Now, theproblem is differentiation. How is what I sell better than MEC's? Is it my customer service? Or is it the brand that I carry. There are thousands of outdoor clothing and gear manufacteres out there. The key is to bring them in and not sell Helly Hansen, Not sell, Cloudveil.

Working at a Independant retail store myself, I understand the hard work it takes to compete against MEC and Coast Mountain. All we can do is somehow differentiate ourselves from them by whatever means we can.

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PostPosted: February 5th, 2006, 2:58 pm 
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I understand and sympathize with small retailers. I shop there whenever I can, usually because I am looking for hard to find items that are not available at the big boxes.

However, recently I am finding that there is little to no product differentiation between the small and big retailers. Everyone carries the same Petzl headlamp, locking gate carabiners, MSR stove, black diamond rappell device, and world famous and cohglans garbage. The only difference is that the little guy charges more.

90% of the time if it is only 10-15% that translated into $5-$10, and I don't care. I will gladly pay the difference when there is in fact increased service.

What kills me is that there is soooooo much good gear out there that NO ONE carries. So at the end of the day, I buy direct from the manufacturer or build it myself.

The small guys have an advantage here. Lower staff turnover means you can invest more in PK training. That means you ought to be able to sell the customer on the difference between a bottom of the line woods canvass pack and a Frost River canoe pack (I love mine BTW). Selling a reflector oven ought to be a no-brainer over the stupid Outback Oven (sorry *******, you know my feelings on the thing).. I mean REAL baking, for groups... not a one hour pizza that barely feeds 2....

When you sell a $2000 canoe, you can upsell them the $75-100 for Mikey Knee cups and thigh straps, even if they never venture into white water, they beat the hell out of flat minicell pads.

Anyway.... the buying group thing gets me. Why not band together when dealing with Johnson Outdoors? Get your rebates, lower your costs on the bread and butter items. If nothing else, at least your margins should improve.


I have to admit, that the industry I work in (residential and commercial lighting manufacturer), the business is a little different. Electricians and contractors need lighting, the trick is to get the distributors to push our over the competition, and we do that by offering rebate perks..... I could see how sporting goods are different. Buyers usually don't come back for new canoes week after week....... Still though, "retailers of the world unite...." and all that jazz. I am interested if you guys have tried that and why it has worked or failed?

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PostPosted: February 5th, 2006, 3:10 pm 
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Rita, that is competition. That's just the way it is. Dan had the right idea, specialize.

I own a service company in a very competitive market. If I sold on price I would be done for. There is always going to be somebody willing to sell X at a cheaper price. So don't try to be the cheapest.

You need to determine what sets you apart from your competitors and then market that. If it is knowledgable staff then so be it. Stick with that plan and eventually you will get a good following of customers who will purchase MOST of their gear from you beacsue they like to deal with you.

A good example is Lee Valley Tools. Not cheap at all (except head lamps for $19.99) and very specialized. They sell customer service and product knowledge. They do it better than anybody else I know. Great following and many many many loyal customers.

If the store your in is not turning enough profit for the owners, they may have to re-think their strategy. Only Wallly Mart can be everything to everybody and go figure I refuse to shop there, as well as many other I know. Sure their prices are cheap, but they treat their vendors like shit. I have first hand knowledge of that and that is why I spend my $$$ elsewhere.

So, don't be dis-heartened by a few people trying to squeeze you. Business is tough in every industry and if there is one that isn't let me know, I'll be there in a flash.

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PostPosted: February 5th, 2006, 5:03 pm 
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FWIW; I used to be in the Wholesale Outdoor market as a rep.
I sold to the specialty outdoor retail guys,small businesses trying to make it work. In the past some have indeed formed their own informal buying groups. They went to Europe and trade shows, to look for unique items, the latest and greatest trends, the better mousetrap,etc. They work very hard to have educated staff.
Approx 10 yrs ago the big guys like Sport Chek,Coast Mtn Sports,Sports Experts, Sport Mart .(all owned buy Forzanis in Calgary),etc realized the outdoor trend had huge potential Their buyers started to go to the outdoor trade shows. They would pick up on the latest thing and buy it up.
MEC was small only two stores Calgary and VCR. Now how many?
As a rep I'd spend a couple of years getting a trend established. I'd sell the product, do product knowledges (PKs)with the staff so they could qualify a customer correctly and sell them what they needed. Once the trend got large enough the big guys would step in and buy at a better price on quantity and sell it at full margin but less than the specialty guy.
Once the big guys got into the game I'd do PKs for the store or dept. mgr who would pass on the info to staff. Every season I'd have different staff to 'train'. We rarely got to talk to the staff on the floor directly.
They were good people but rarely were they interested in the activity let alone the product I was selling.
Now, MEC and the other big box stores or chains have the large share of the outdoor market. The smaller operations struggle to make a profit.
One of the frustratons I hear from Rita is that a customer would come into the store use the sales people as a product resource then go to the Coop/big box to buy on price.
Realties of business I know but frustrating.
Trying to find the right mix of specialty items and popular items is like trying to hit a moving target.
Hugh

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PostPosted: February 5th, 2006, 5:26 pm 
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rob in angus wrote:
Rita, that is competition. That's just the way it is. Dan had the right idea, specialize.


As an independent retailer in the garden center industry, which is also greatly affected by the big box stores,I feel Rob and Dan are absolutely right. There has to be a perceived difference, by buying public, for an independent retailer to survive. An independent retailer can specialize in service, product selection and mix, or convenience, but not very easily on price.

If a “known value”(KV) item is part of your store’s inventory mix, it should be priced in line with the public’s expectation of price, otherwise it should not be offered. If a KV item is priced higher than expected, then the entire store can get a reputation of being “pricey”. In our industry, a bag 40lb. bag of topsoil is a KV item, and even though we should be charging $2.99, we only charge $1.99 because the box stores set the perceived price. Items than are not as well known by the public can carry a higher mark-up.

The customers that “want deals” can be hard to work with. I find customers of Middle-Eastern or Mediterranean ethnicity are the most likely to ask for deals, probably just a cultural influence. If you can tell them there’s not going to be a better deal, with humor, they are more likely to purchase.

The unfortunate thing is those consumers that will drive the market in the near future, the “generation Jones” and the “generation X” shoppers, grew up with big box stores, and these stores will often be the first considered when a purchase is to be made. The independent niche stores will have to be content with the consumers the boxes can’t satisfy.

The successful independent “outdoor retailers” in my area have changed product mix over the years and have grown to become destination stores, stressing selection and service. A good example is of one of those stores is .
here.

Steve


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PostPosted: February 5th, 2006, 6:00 pm 
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I was impressed with the survival of a the outdoor store gear shop in Baddeck Nova Scotia....in the winter it's a one horse town on it's way to the glue factory...to be precise it's a village. (in summer it's a American quite wealthy summer retreat) The shop doesn't have a webpage bu I can tell you it had a unique line of stuff very targeted to what one would need as a tourist that was forgotten at home ....quality, very different trendy high quality clothing from Europe (there was a swedish boot maker I can't thin of right now but my ultra fashion consious Toronto Sister just ate these 250 dollar moggasin type boots up like they were gold)
Speeking with the owner she says it's a talent of her husband to pick high quality unique items and bring them in....people come up from Sydney (1 hour + away) just to shop there....good quality trendy teeshirts with catchy phrases tastefully small but targeted to the various outdoor enthusisat groups (there it is day hiking biking sea kayaking, sailing ) Perry topsider, helly hansen outer and base layer stuff...gortex generalist stuff they stuck to Columbia and I don't think that was the items people visited for.....if it wasn't unique or they couldn't compete they didn't bothre to have selection just had a single choice for the despirate shoppper
For me I'd be interested in smaller market items like Dan.... to his list I'd add environmental wood burning stoves, Gul sailing suits that are cheaper alternatives to drysuits....kids items, MEC does this fairly well.... is there such a thing as a water sneaker in the 75 dollar price range? I love Patagonia type clothing...there's got to be an alternative to paying 60 bucks for a climbing tank and get quality....I'm not stuck on the name just the fit
my mom always says we are the hardest people to buy anything for.... hate to mention the "white looting" gift registry :lol: but a little investment as a web-service would help people at Christmas time find stuff that they just aren't interested in shopping for and don't have to get a membership, for some reason that 5 bucks anoyes one time shoppers :roll: or is my mom just cheap?
how about a bug shirt that is higher quality than the bugB gone all netting and the full cotton ones? little cooler but under 40 bucks? Does that exist?
aluminm dutch ovens.... susy bug nets for the lasy people who don't want to sew...... working alternatives to DEET products, bulk freeze dried food where I can buy one package and it feed 4 or more....... I guess I'm not the shopper you want but to get the folks that have to buy everything... ....oh and now that Serratus isn't being made I'd love someone to get the compression sacks they use to make....loved them, white water basic carbon paddle that is strong light and a little more price concous than having to buy the name brand, not the carbon shaft plastic blade auqua boundlike to be under 200 with taxes..or how about Mohawk paddles.....I think Jon had a time of it trying to find one of them......
bag cages that will allow one to easily put in and remove a barrel(zippered or clipped)....Mike Yee thing strap buckles or replacement pieces
Bulga stuff is hard to find unless I go to Quebec... they make a tear away safety release throw bag and belt that's the best design I've seen
Oh and how about the "tripping pant lament"
is it possible to sell bulk naptha? don't know but it sure would be nice not to have 5 cans to get rid of every year....oh and a refillable 1 lb propane tank
The market is so vast, you got to pick the stuff others have over-looked and advertize on outdoor sites, rapid mag reviews, wilderness synposium were every canoe fart from here to Maine goes, outdoor club after hour shopping daysdon't just let them know but write specific adds for their newslettersask them to run a survey for you and in exchange donate a pice of gear for their collection, doesn't have to be big....a kids lifejacket would do.....
I think we can all recognise quality and are willing to pay reasonable....if you could bring in the quality knock offs we don't give a shit about names...we are like the Lakeport crowd good beer fair prices (and that doesn't have to be the best)


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PostPosted: February 6th, 2006, 1:44 am 
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I'm certainly not adverse to getting a deal on some item. However, if a particular item costs a little bit more at a specialty store, I often pay it. I understand that that specialty store cannot afford to offer a deal with the likes of the big stores. I like to keep the little specialty stores in business. I'm not being totally altruistic. It is not my way of contributing to keeping the small business owner from succumbing under the pressure of the big chains. Here's why. The big chains certainly have more buying power. They're buying thousands of a certain item. But if you're some Walmart of the outdoor world, you're going to want to deal with suppliers/manufacturers that can supply you with those thousands of items. That means of course, that the small mom and pop manufacturer remains a small mom and pop supplying the small specialty shops. And that's fine. But if the small specialty stores get overwhelmed and go out of business, then we're left buying from the chains. And they're going to want canoes, stoves, tents, etc. that they think everybody wants. You can forget about really getting the dope on ten different water filters, or tents from Bibler Tents, or any small manufacturer. And if you want first hand advice on an item, don't expect that kid at the Walmart of the Outdoors to know anything about how a particular stove works.

Erich


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PostPosted: February 6th, 2006, 7:15 am 
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About customers asking for a price break, that is a standard practice for many people. I'm a terrible price negotiator, but I have friends who can and do make it work for everyone involved. What I have learned in my professional life, is that not trying to negotite a lower price tends to leave everyone unhappy. The buyer wonders if he paid too much, the seller wonders if he charged too little. If your price is nonnegotiable, learn to deal with it in a non-insulting manner. The way you put it could be considered an insult to many who regularly ask about discounts.

One thing that does amaze me around negotiating in "developed" societies (ie. those with MSRP standards) vs true negotiating societies is the difference in attitude toward profit margin. Official stores see all the overhead above their purchase price and consider any price less than their label price as a loss. The barterers in the world see any price above what they paid as profit, knowing they can always replace the item with another one but they can't back get that dollar that just walked out the door.

Tony


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PostPosted: February 6th, 2006, 8:35 am 
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I don't see how the price of gear at an outdoor store is ever negotiable. In addition, I've never heard anyone ever negotiate a labled price here in the US at a reputable outddor retailer.

My bigger problem is that generally, I'm looking for "X" brand, or Y model of gear. I've already made my decision about what I'm buying. If a retailer doesn't carry it, then I'm not buying it. That goes for paddles, canoes, packs, tents, etc. In addition, I've been buying good high quality gear for 15 years now so I have almost everything, and I can afford to be picky. I know when my tent is giving up the ghost, and I will soon be in the market for a new one. So I start looking for them. But just as often I end up buying direct to get what I want, or I buy over the internet just like Dan. The local outdoor store does a nice job of selling outdoor gear that appeals to fashion conscious consumers, but can't afford to stock the exact piece of outdoor equipment I'm looking for.... so they can't make the sale.

Sadly, that store is a friend of mines, and while I understand he needs to make a living, it's also understood that part of business is having what the consumer wants in stock when they want it, and as the market gets more and more specialized we are forced more and more to buy direct to get the product that best suits us.

PK


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