Natural Foods Merchandiser

The Practical Manager: Put your broker to work for you

The Practical Manager

What is a broker? I have heard brokers referred to as "outsourced sales and marketing professionals." (The word out?sourced is used because, although each manufacturer that they represent pays them, they are not direct employees of any manufacturer.) They are a vital part of the sales process, but they never take ownership of the product being sold. They're like real estate agents who help buy or sell a house, but don't take ownership of the home during the sales process.

The world of a broker in the natural products industry, however, is much more complex than that of a real estate broker. A broker will potentially be involved with many people in the sales process, including:

  • Manufacturers. Many manufacturers see brokers as those who know the marketplace well and are therefore included in planning sales and marketing activities for their brands.
  • Retailers. The broker helps bring new and promotional items to retail. Getting samples, deal sheets, special sales tools and more to retail stores are big parts of each broker's job.
  • Consumers. This is where the real sale happens. The broker helps in merchandising, marketing, giving pricing advice, setting up demos and providing product information.

To reap the benefits of a positive broker relationship, the first step is to communicate clearly. Let your broker know what your hot buttons are. Are you focused on new products? Do you do a lot of demos? Do you need a lot of information for staff and consumer education? Do you highlight case stacks and end cap displays? Do you want co-op funding for advertising? To have a chance of creating success for your store, a broker must know what you are looking for.

Let your brokers know how often you would like to hear from them. Do you want to see them in person—or is receiving information in the mail or via e-mail sufficient? Realize, too, that time and the size of their territory may play a role in how often they can come by in person.

Be sure to give your brokers feedback on the deals and information that they submit to you. If you pick up a new item or buy in on a deal, that would be positive. If you don't act on something that they give you, tell them why. If you don't want to demo a product because it tastes terrible, or if you don't buy in on a deal because the discount isn't deep enough, that can be helpful information.

The more your brokers know about your reasons for acting or not acting, the better job they'll be able to do for you going forward. In fact, I think that much of the time, they learn more by knowing about the things that did not pique your interest.

A great potential benefit of developing a positive relationship with the broker community comes from the number of product lines that each broker represents. Let's say you have five brokers in your part of the country. Each of those brokers may represent a few dozen brands. By developing an understanding with four or five brokers about how you are trying to drive your business, you have a potential benefit coming from 200 or more brands. Do you think you have time to make and maintain 200 different relationships? A healthy relationship with your brokers can not only make you money—it also can save you time.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 11/p. 24

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