Entrepreneur, Marketing

7 Uncomfortable Conversations You will have with Wholesale Buyers (plus bonus scripts!)

Raise your hand if selling to your favorite store tops your business bucket list? But as exciting as it is to see your products on the shelf of a store, there’s a whole new set of challenges that come with developing wholesale and retail partnerships. One of the not-so-sexy sides of developing a wholesale/retailer business? You have to get comfortable with having some awkward and, at times, unpleasant conversations.

Raise your hand if selling to your favorite store tops your business bucket list? But as exciting as it is to see your products on the shelf of a store, there’s a whole new set of challenges that come with developing wholesale and retail partnerships. One of the not-so-sexy sides of developing a wholesale/retailer business? You have to get comfortable with having some awkward and, at times, unpleasant conversations.  |  Think Creative Collective

As an account manager with an NYC based women's accessories company for nearly a decade, I’ve had my share of uncomfortable conversations with buyers + retail partners. I learned pretty quickly that, regardless of how much we plan and try to prevent things from going off track, there are certain situations that arise more often than others.

Today, I’m sharing seven of the most common awkward and uncomfortable conversations that I’ve had with buyers throughout my career, along with scripts to help you handle each situation like a pro.

Uncomfortable Convo #1: How is (another store) selling your products at a lower price?

Buyers shop around and have a good idea about what is happening in the marketplace (it’s their job!), so if you sell to their competition or another retailer they will undoubtedly know. While they can’t fault you for selling to other stores (unless you have an exclusivity agreement of some sort) they will probably be pretty peeved if they see that the competition is carrying your product at a lower price. Regardless of how you structure your pricing and MSRPs, at the end of the day, it's up to the store who bought from you to decide what the best retail is for them.

When a buyer sees your product going out another retailer's door at a lower retail price, they are going to wonder if the competition also bought it for less. Here’s how you can tackle this conundrum with class:

  1. Thank your buyer for bringing it to your attention.

  2. If you don’t know/have the answer, say so. It’s better to get back to someone (who is already mad) with the right answer than to try to put something together on the fly.   

  3. If a change occurred which resulted in a lower price, address it (and if the other store decided on that retail themselves, say so).

Here are a few different ways you could respond:

Thanks for bringing this to my attention! I’m not sure what happened here, let me do some investigating and I’ll get back to you.

---

Thanks for bringing this to my attention! We recently updated our packaging which has resulted in a lower wholesale price. Going forward, the price is now (X) with a new MSRP of Y. I apologize for not reaching out to you sooner with the exciting news about the lower price! Going forward, I’ll be sure to make you aware of any adjustments as soon as they happen.

When this happens, be prepared for the buyer to ask you for a credit for the price difference. When you sold to them and how angry they are will factor in how you’ll ultimately respond.

----

Thanks for letting me know! I’m not sure why (competitor) decided on this retail. While I legally don’t have much say in the selling price they set, I’ll certainly have a conversation with their buying team so we can try to avoid this situation in the future.

Keep in mind that when this happens, there’s only so much you can do. If a retailer gets really mad they may pull their business from you. While it doesn’t seem fair because you don’t have any control of the situation, it happens.  

Uncomfortable Convo #2: “I received a damaged product”

When a buyer calls to talk about damaged products, your heart is going to sink instantly. While you can hope that it’s just a one off situation, regardless of whether it’s one piece or an entire shipment, you need to do everything in your power to make it right.

  1. Start with an apology. Buyers don’t want or need to hear excuses. Even if you’re suspicious because something sounds way off, it’s best to apologize first.

  2. Mention your QA process. Even if you are quality control yourself, let the buyers know that the shipment was inspected prior to it leaving the warehouse (aka your garage).

  3. You need pictures to get to the heart of the issue ASAP, so ask the buyer to send you photos of the damages.

  4. Once you’ve received and reviewed the images to ensure the damage is real, ask how they would prefer to process. Are they looking to get a refund? Do they want a discount? If the damage is minimal, you may want to consider offering a discount in the hopes that they’ll keep the product.

Here’s how your script may go in this scenario:

I’m so sorry to hear that the (item) arrived damaged! My team inspects every (batch or order) prior to shipment so I’m going to follow up with them to see if something was missed. While I investigate, would you mind forwarding me some images of the damages? I’d like to pass the info along to my (team or manufacturer) so we can make sure this doesn’t happen again.

Uncomfortable Convo #3: “I would like a discount”

From a salesperson’s perspective, there’s nothing more frustrating than a buyer who fights you over EVERY. SINGLE. PRICE. While some buyers are more than happy to pay the line cost, there are others who negotiate on every aspect of the sale. As frustrating as this is, it’s important to keep in mind that they have margin targets and plans to hit, so if the pricing doesn’t line up with those goals they are going to ask you for discounted pricing.

How your pricing is structured will determine how you answer this type of request. Don’t feel that you have to accommodate every request that comes your way but at the same time, having a little leeway built into your pricing can make you look like a hero. It’s much easier to just give your buyer what he/she wants than it is to deny their request, so the script for this scenario will focus on how to say no.

Here’s how your script may go in this scenario:

I understand that you need to be at (x) in order to place your order but I’m afraid we’re too far apart right now. I do have (insert lower priced option that hits their target) that meets your pricing requirements. What do you think?

By trying to meet their pricing with another product you are showing that you’re willing to partner with them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Uncomfortable Convo #4: Your products are late so I want to cancel my order

There’s no question about it, late goods are a huge headache for buyers. They’ve allocated their dollars to very specific windows and when you ship them late, you throw everything off. When this happens you want to be proactive and reach out to them BEFORE the order is due to ship. Giving them a call the day the order is supposed to be heading out the door isn’t going to win you brownie points. Even worse? When the order should have been delivered by now and your customer is looking for an update and you simply forgot (or avoided) to tell them it was late. Pro tip: Start by checking your terms + conditions to ensure you have your policy for late shipments in writing so your buyers know how your company handles them.

Here’s how your script may go in this scenario:

Hi X,

I’m giving you a call because I’ve just been notified that (style/product) was delayed at my (manufacturer/printer). I know you were looking to receive your shipment on (quote their purchase order ship dates) but now it’s looking more like (new dates). Everything else on your order is here and ready to ship, so would you like me to ship (delayed item) separately or hold the order and ship everything together?

Now pause for a moment and give them a chance to answer. How your buyer answers will determine the next step in the process. If they opt to split the shipment you might consider offering to pick up shipping charges for the delayed item as a gesture of goodwill.

Uncomfortable Convo #5: Your prices are going up

Nobody likes to hear that prices are going up, especially buyers who have great selling history with an item at a specific price point. Talking about price increases is scary because you always run the risk of your retailer walking away. While it’s tempting to avoid having the conversation until it's absolutely necessary, it’s best to let your buyers know as soon as possible so they have an opportunity to place another order(s) at the current pricing.

Here’s how your script may go in this scenario:

Hi (X)!

I’m giving you a call because I wanted to share some changes that are happening here. We’re going to be raising the prices on (x) and I wanted you to hear it from me first. I also wanted to give you an opportunity to order more at the current price of ($) before the prices go up on (insert date). Would you be interested in placing another order at the current price?

Uncomfortable Convo #6: I want to purchase (style name) for (lower price)

When a buyer sees your product they almost automatically mentally assign a retail value that it should sell for in their store. The problem is that oftentimes, the price a buyer will assign and the price you’ve set are very different. For example, if you are selling a card for $2.50 with an MSRP of $5.00 and the buyer sees that card and assigns a retail value of $3.00 ($1.50 wholesale), you can quickly find your negotiations at a standstill.

While it’s tempting to give your buyer anything they want (because you want that sale!) doing so will only set you up for more of these conversations down the road. If a buyer believes that everything is up for negotiation, then that’s how your business with them will be. Also, if you agree to a much lower price just to get your foot in the door you will have a very tough time raising that price down the road.

Be prepared for this conversation by knowing your pricing inside and out so you know which items have a bit more wiggle room and which have a firm price. Also, do some research about the store beforehand so you have an idea about the price points they currently carry.  

Here’s how your script may go in this scenario:

I understand that (requested price) is more in line with your strategy but I would be doing a disservice to my other customers who paid the current line price. I’m afraid we’re a bit too far apart right now on this item. I do have (different item) that is more in line with your target cost. Would you like to bring (item) in instead?

Uncomfortable convo #7: You receive a request to support an in-store event, marketing or advertising campaign

Some stores will request/expect you support them in their sales efforts. This can mean you contribute to their advertising budget, charitable give back campaign or freebies for in-store events. While it’s always nice to say yes in the name of partnership, not all requests are created equal. Some may require an additional financial contribution while others are a little easier to digest. Larger retailers will traditionally have parameters laid out in their terms for doing business so you’ll know in advance if they’re going to ask you for advertising support throughout the year (and can work this into your pricing strategy).

Depending on the request, it may be an easy yes. For the times when yes isn’t an option (say, they’re asking you to cut a check and your budget doesn’t allow for it) it’s always nice to offer another option to show your support.

Here’s how your script may go in this scenario:

Thank you so much for thinking of me! We’ve already met our charitable give back budget for the year but I’d love to contribute (product) to be used as a giveaway or raffle prize.

or

Your event sounds awesome and I’d love to help you share it! If you have any social media graphics or marketing collateral please send them my way so I can support you and help to get the word out.  

Having conversations with retail partners and buyers to address issues or requests can be unnerving, but having a plan in place will help ease the pain. If you have questions or want to discuss a specific situation that you’d like some help working through, let’s connect!



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