Manufacturers know they need to provide buyers with plenty of information about their products if they expect a spot on store shelves. But what a lot of store owners don?t know is just how far some manufacturers are willing to go to make sure they?re current on the products they sell.
Like, to Chicago. Or New Jersey. Or Long Island. Or even Switzerland.
Manufacturers want to make sure retailers are up-to-date on the latest thinking in nutritionâand how that ties in with their products.
?We fly them in, they come see our facilities, we give them a tour,? says Jodi Drexler Billet, vice president at Country Life Vitamins in Hauppauge, N.Y. ?We show them how things are done in a GMP facility. ? When they leave, they get a good perspective.?
Earlier this year, Howard Chasser of Jandi?s Natural Market in Oceanside, N.Y., toured the Solgar plant in New Jersey and found it educational. When you see a well-run facility that emphasizes good manufacturing practices, ?you really get a sense of what questions to ask? when evaluating other companies, he says. ?There?s a lot of companies getting away with a lot of stuff.?
Some of the free or almost-free training programs offered by manufacturers include:
- Open houses and plant tours;
- Educational seminars;
- In-store training for retail employees;
- Free literature, posters, shelf talkers, co-op advertising;
- Events for consumers, such as seminars, radio appearances, book signings and health screenings.
Country Life started offering InStep, its In-Store Educational Program, about a year ago. It provides nutritionists and other experts for in-store training and consumer seminars.
Saundra Gleisberg, manager of Earthlight Natural Foods in Tannersville, Pa., hosted Country Life at her store for staff workshops. ?I would highly recommend Country Life [training],? she says. ?They didn?t just tout their own products. They talked about the nutritional reasons why things work.?
NOW Foods fields calls every week from retailers looking for business advice.
?We don?t say, ?Buy 100 percent NOW Foods and drop everybody else,?? says Dan Richard, sales manager and founding family member of the Bloomingdale, Ill., company.
Bioforce USA provides a range of training services, from in-store demos and presentations to seminars and literature, according to managing director Eileen Sheets. The company, based in Hudson, N.Y., represents a number of European lines including L?Herbolario beauty products, Sanhelios and Bioforce herbal and homeopathic supplements and Herbatint hair color. Bioforce reps can spend time on the sales floor with store personnel, helping them interact with customers.
?You want to make sure they?re excited and know what they?re talking about,? Sheets says. ?With a company and a line like Bioforce, you really have to understand it. We?re an unusual line, made from fresh plant, which is not the norm.?
Selected retailers are even flown to Switzerland, where Bioforce founder Alfred Vogel developed the line, to see ?how they grow their own plants and control everything from the soil to the seed to the bottle it?s put in,? Sheets says.
How do you find out which of your vendors offer such programs? Call them up and ask. Brokers and distributors often know, or can find out, but nothing beats a quick call to the toll-free number most manufacturers list on their Web sites.
In the days of direct contact between manufacturers and stores, sales reps would keep retailers current on promotional and educational offerings. But now, both vendors and retailers say, the convenience of buying and selling through distributors has curtailed that source of back-and-forth information.
Bioforce used to sell direct, but went to distribution at retailers? request. ?We have a lot of stores that carry our products who aren?t even in our database,? says Sheets. ?It makes it harder? to connect with customers, although Bioforce also has set up training sessions for distributors? customer service people and their sales reps.
Twinlab offers programs ranging from trainer visits to a bimonthly retailer newsletter. IdeaSphere, which bought Twinlab in 2003, also owns Rebus Health Media, which publishes health newsletters, white papers and cookbooks. Rebus? team of experts provides ?an unbiased source of content,? says Paige Pistone, director of communications for Twinlab in Hauppauge, N.Y. ?They seal the deal for us.?
Lori Pennisi, Twinlab?s national trainer, will arrange seminars and screenings for consumers and training sessions for store employees, Pistone says. She schedules doctors for consumer workshops, radio shows and book signings, and nurses to conduct screenings for specific conditions that are supported by Twinlab products, such as high blood pressure or glucose.
In some cases, eligibility for expensive programs is limited to a manufacturer?s better customers. But a surprising number of vendors will pick up the tab for even small retailers to visit their manufacturing facilities.
NOW Foods, for example, will host an open house Aug. 18 through 20 at its headquarters near Chicago. Besides a plant tour, the event includes presentations by Carl Germano of PL Thomas; Marcia Zimmerman, author of The 7-Color Cuisine (Penmarin Books, forthcoming); Vitamin Angel President Howard Schiffer; Celadrin?s Lorna Vanderhaeghe; and public relations specialist Suzanne Shelton, who will advise retailers how to get exposure in their local media.
Everything except transportation to Chicago is free of charge, including meals, lodging, local transportation and the two-day program, Richard says. It?s not limited to NOW?s power sellers, either. ?We try to get new people,? he says. ?That?s our focus.?
Solgar flies selected retailers to New Jersey for tours of its recently renovated laboratories, manufacturing and distribution center. The VIP Retailer Tour has been such a hit, spokesman Jeff Whipple says, that Solgar?s ads show retailers on the tour. The company handed participants on one tour digital video cameras and turned the results into a mock documentary, ?The Science of Solgar Supplements: A Look Through the Retailer?s Lens.? Solgar will send a free DVD to anybody who wants to see the Leonia plant tour through the eyes of other store owners.
?If I were a retailer,? says Bioforce?s Sheets, ?it would make sense to find companies you can really trust, based on their manufacturing and their ethics.? Nothing beats an in-person look at the manufacturing process, she believes.
Chasser would like more of his vendors to offer education for retailersâbe that a full-fledged junket or a knowledgeable sales rep. ?I wish they would provide easier access to whatever programs might be in place,? he says. Trade shows such as Natural Products Expo East have excellent education programs, but ?there?s only so much information that you can take in.?
Dan Richard says the NOW Foods e-newsletter, which goes out weekly to about 10,000 inboxes, is more an educational tool than a sales pitch.
Richard?s dad, Elwood, started it. ?He gave information out to everybody. Volleyball buddies. People at church. Competitors he met at shows.?
NOW just started a monthly teleconference series for retailers featuring industry experts such as Marcia Zimmerman and Mark Blumenthal. ?The feedback we got from retailers was overwhelming,? Richard says.
When in doubt, Chasser advises, ?Ask the retailers what they need.?
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 7/p. 12, 14, 16