As it became clearer in March that retailing, an already fickle business in the e-commerce age, was in for a new disruption of immeasurable enormity and consequence, it also became clearer vendor-buyer relations, already confrontational at times, were about to be tested like never before.
It was stunningly surreal as store lockdowns mounted nationwide. Virtually overnight, many retailers and their suppliers were swirling in the same vortex of revenue, income and cash flow uncertainty.
Tipping The Scales
It didn’t take long for suppliers to ring in with tales of customers, some of them quite healthy before the pandemic, daring to seek prolonged payment terms on orders already negotiated, many of them shipped.
To some vendors, it felt like the latest abuse by customers in a string of abuses that had begun a generation ago as retail consolidation tipped the scales to fast-expanding operators and what often seemed like spread-sheet-controlled approaches to merchandising.
The darkest, earliest stages of a widescale business crisis can exacerbate the natural imbalance of power in most seller-buyer dynamics, often releasing rash, protective instincts and decisions that can trickle down from the more commanding terminus of a supply chain to its more vulnerable origin. And, yes, vendors are often caught in the middle.
It can be revealing, if not at all relieving, to step back whenever possible from the raging flames of a shared crisis to try to see how everyone along the chain is feeling the burn and coping with it. Such appreciation can be the catalyst to restoring genuineness to the concept of partnership, a word that has been tossed around so gratuitously in recent years that, to many, it has the hollowest of rings.
This makes this year’s edition of the HomeWorld Business Impact Merchants, beginning on page 20 of the July 13 issue, particularly intriguing. As with many facets of business and life, what often seems like instant change actually is the accelerated intensification of wants, needs, plans and actions already in motion.
HomeWorld’s Impact Merchants report was started several years ago to recognize buyers and merchandising executives across the home and housewares business who transcend the volume of sales for which they are responsible. It always has been a forum for vendors to nominate architects of retail programs, regardless of dollar size and scope, based on a blend of creativity, communication, cooperation and collaboration.
Such hallmarks of successful, enterprising merchandising, blurred perhaps at times by corporate restraint and risk aversion, should prove even more mutually beneficial to vendors and their customers in this recovering marketplace if given the chance to flourish.
Extra consideration in the selection of this year’s Impact Merchants was given to the leadership they demonstrated and the trust they cultivated in helping guide vendors through the pandemic.
They’ve passed the first part of what could be the toughest test they’ll ever face.