museums&MORE Spring 2010
The Store Room: Spring 2010

Q. What are the common frustrations experienced when dealing with vendors and how do you think things could be improved?”

Terry Blumer
Woodland Park Zoo
Seattle, Wash.

The most common frustration I have with vendors is when a vendor doesn’t respect my request for preferred methods of contact. Nothing turns me off faster than a “cold call” or unrequested sample followed up with a call. I would rather use e-mail, as it fits into a schedule better and prefer Web sites instead of actual samples.

I also find that an unprepared vendor (not researching our collection, location, etc.) wastes my time and theirs. All too often I think conversations start off with “I have the perfect thing for your store,” when generally, it turns out to be the farthest thing from perfect for my audience.

Karin Miller
Spring Green General Store
Spring Green, Wis.

We have the most problems with apparel and accessories vendors. They seem to lack quality control and ship whatever they have hoping we won’t discover the flaws. We do, but don’t enjoy having to send them back, fix them or get them replaced. I think part of the problem is paying with credit cards — if they have already been paid, why bother to double check? We have gone back to requesting terms with vendors, even for the first order, and most of the time it works.

It seems vendors have cut back on having a customer service person and/or someone who will answer the phone at all. We like it when someone is there to help, and even a quick e-mail response is better than no answer.

Last but not least, a frustration is an invoice/packing slip that does not have the prices! I would even like to know what my shipping costs are without having to call.

That being said, there are many vendors we enjoy working with that remember what good old-fashioned customer service is. Sometimes we will even reorder just because it’s a company we enjoy doing business with.

Joel Cencius
Betty Brinn Children’s Museum Gift Shop
Milwaukee, Wis.

The biggest frustration I have is something that I’m sure is echoed by many of my peers — backordered items! It seems some vendors always have items that are out-of-stock at point of order or are on backorder for months after ordering.

This is a big frustration for us, seeing as we have a much smaller gift shop, and when I order product that means I usually need it out on my floor right away. I don’t have a lot of room to store overstock product, so I wait to order until we are almost out of something. Backordered items are also usually “hot items,” so no product means I get that “hot” item in when it’s not “hot” anymore.

This could be improved by keeping inventory levels higher, especially for those items that are very popular for that vendor. Also, better communication at the time the order was placed — letting me know right away what items are in stock and what items will ship at a later date.

Julie Pedersen
Shaddow Domain
Idaho Falls, Idaho

My biggest frustration is broken or missing product (I’m the only person in my shop, so I know it’s not an employee). Although most vendors are happy to remedy problems, it takes time and I’d rather just get items to the shelf. I have a very small shop and I have a lot of this. I can’t imagine how bad it is if the percentage is the same with larger shops.

Claudia Majetich
MIT Museum store

This may not be my biggest problem, but it’s one of those annoying ones that just makes my life a little harder: not sending back-ordered stuff because the $$ amount of the merchandise is low. I have heard a couple of reasons from my vendors. The most annoying are the following:
1. A frequent reason is that the vendor’s warehouse has a policy to not ship if an order is below a certain dollar amount. This really irritates me because the reason the order is low is that the stuff that I originally ordered wasn’t available in a timely fashion. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if they called and told me what was happening. Then, I would have the opportunity to add to other merchandise that I might need, and get my back ordered merchandise quicker. But, not knowing what’s happening means I have to call vendors on a regular basis and find out what the situation is. _Don’t they want to make it easy for us to sell their stuff?
2. The other really annoying reason is that the vendor was waiting for the “”rest”” of my order to come in. This happened recently, where I received one part of a shipment. When I called about the two items that I was waiting for, I was told that one item was in stock, and the other items would be received in a few weeks. They would send me both items as soon as the second item came in. I was really annoyed because I wanted the item that they had in stock as soon as possible. It is something that I felt would sell well when we had lots of families with younger children around, and I wound up missing a couple of big events.

Tonda Rae Silinsky
The Gift Shop of Samaritan Regional Health System
Ashland, Ohio

Being a small hospital gift shop, it is difficult to deal with vendors who have large minimum orders. Merchandise with the lowest price point usually comes in 12s, 24s and sometimes even 36s. How many hospital employees, who are our main customer base, will want the same item? Then you are faced with storing the multiple items from season to season and hope most people don’t have great memories.

We find that some reps are hard to contact once the sale is made. If there is a problem with the merchandise or the wrong item arrives, contacting the rep to handle the situation can be iffy. Rather than the company paying the rep by increasing their base prices, deal directly with the wholesale outlet. Some companies have good products but don’t want to deal wholesale — that’s a problem.

We actually prefer to purchase off of Web sites where you can see the item, read about the material from which it is made and know the size. You learn quickly which photos look better than the actual merchandise and then you avoid them like the plague.

Sherry Simons
Sarasota, Fla.

I have two frustrations with vendors. One is the vendor that doesn’t know his merchandise. He has a catalog, and it seems that he is looking, along with me, for the first time. Since he cannot carry all of the products with him, if I ask how something works, I would expect him to know. Doesn’t always happen.

Second, vendors that try to push large numbers of a product on a small retailer. It’s better to have less and sell out, than to sit with an excessive number of items that don’t move. I am on top of things and will re-order when I see something is selling well.

Susan Dent
Oakwood Hospital Gift Shop
Dearborn, Mich.

I’m with a hospital gift shop and volunteers do some of the ordering. I know that some vendors are more like “friends” with the volunteers because of how much they deal with each other, and I feel that some vendors take advantage of these volunteer buyers. They don’t make sure they get their PPP discount and they don’t ask for delivery dates (especially if it is something that is a holiday and they send it right away.) This makes it hard, especially at Christmas when it’s Valentine’s merchandise that shouldn’t be shipped until sometime in January.

Sharon DeGaramo
Rosamond Gifford Zoo
Syracuse, N.Y.

An on-going concern are vendors/reps who book appointments in the fourth-quarter wanting orders for the following year, but the inventory they are pushing, as well as the prices, are from the current year. I can almost hear the groans of buyers now who have encountered this technique, as they understand the levels of problems that this can create if the order(s) gets processed without detection.

I am in the habit of declining appointments during the fourth-quarter if they don’t have the next years’ merchandise and pricing, yet I am also in the habit of asking what they are pushing at that time of year.

I’ve had some disappointments with vendors/reps who’ve even replied that they had the following years’ merchandise and pricing, only to find out that they didn’t. They were trying to bulk up their year-end sales, get a head start on next year without having that years’ catalog/pricing, and/or reduce old inventory.

There’s no secret how to avoid this from happening — vendors/reps can keep a relationship with buyers strong and fruitful by being honest rather than misleading. (Likewise is true as well!) Trust needs to be developed on both sides; it’s difficult to again garner a trust that has been placed in jeopardy.

Pat Salsbury
Arkansas Children’s Hospital
Little Rock, Ark.

I would like to see them require that all sales reps leave a copy of an order or have one faxed/emailed within 24 hours. Merchandise arrives before the rep sends us a copy. Since we have a P.O.S .system (as most shops do these days) we need to have these entered before it can be received. It also lets us check input errors or such before items are shipped.

Second, I would like to see vendors honor ship dates. These are assigned to each order so that we can receive merchandise in a timely manner and pay the invoice on time. With sales of more than $1.5 million, there are a lot of shipments coming in weekly. It also helps with staying within our budget.

Kelly Blue Baxter
Museum of Northern Arizona
Flagstaff, Ariz.

I’ve been working with over 50 vendors as a buyer each month to stock our museum’s bookstore for the last two years. In that time, I have been very pleased with some of my vendors and not so pleased with others. A good vendor shows up or checks in on a monthly basis to see if we are in need of anything. They are always interested in showing us new products tailored for our patrons and they are also willing to negotiate better pricing and/or better discount schedules. They keep me apprised of any specials they may be running to help our organization save money.

The biggest frustrations I have involve a lack of follow-up and follow through. Vendors sometimes fail to check in after product is sent to make sure the order was processed correctly, and/or fail to check in when stock is running low on a regular basis.

Also, I do have some vendors that make promises they can’t keep, like quicker turn around times or getting backorders fulfilled on a timely basis. If expectations are not met enough times, I find new vendors. Other frustrations include incorrect pricing on invoices. When this occurs, it creates extra work and time to resolve the problems. If I do have a problem with an order, I expect the vendor to fix the problem immediately, but sometimes they fail to communicate the circumstances surrounding the situation or fix the problem in a timely manner. This delays placing product on the sales floor for sale, which leaves our operation in limbo and not as profitable as it could be.

Overall, I have noticed vendor performance improve in this tough economy. They are aware (for the most part) that their performance has to be stepped up a notch or they will lose our business. There is no shortage of competition, and as a buyer, I choose to do business with vendors that make my job easier, not more complicated.

Terry Tarnow
Dennos Museum Store
Traverse City, Mich.

I have many vendors and reps who are wonderful to work with. The worst are the ones who do not return calls; they want us to do business with them, but when you call to place an order they don’t respond. If the person is a rep and does not return my call within 24 hours, I send the order directly to the company.

It’s frustrating when I find a vendor or rep whose merchandise fits my store, but they don’t stay in contact with me. If they don’t send a catalogue or e-mail me with information about new products, I can’t buy the product.

My other frustration is dealing with the pushy vendor who insists that their product will do well in my store despite the fact that as a museum store I can only carry items that relate to my museum’s collections or exhibits. I try in nicest way to explain this information, but they just don’t get it.

Another frustration is vendors who have high opening order minimums. I would think that with they economy the way it is that vendors would be happy to take our orders and keep our business and assure future sales.

Laurie Taylor
Knoxville Zoo
Knoxville, Tenn.

My biggest frustration is simply the volume of calls that I receive from vendors soliciting my business. I know times are tough and we are all trying to make the sale, but the very best way to get my attention is to send a catalog with a price list either via snail mail or e-mail. If I don’t return your phone call, especially after the second time, please take the hint that I am not interested in your product. I know it sounds harsh, but I simply don’t have the time (or the patience) to explain to more than 20 sales people a day why I don’t want their product.

A more minor pet peeve is when I get two or three independent sales reps for the same product line calling me from out of the blue telling me that they are now my rep. Ninety percent of the time I have a very good working relationship with another independent rep and have no interest in changing, and you aren’t going to trick me into working with you by simply telling me that you are my rep now.

Melissa Spoerl
Maine Historical Society
Portland, Maine

I find it frustrating when a new vendor or rep visits me and doesn’t know what kinds of things I sell in the museum store. We are an historic house museum and when the rep tries to sell me dinosaur merchandise or science kits, it is clear that they have not done their homework!

Also, when a rep is replaced by someone new, it would be nice if they would review my buying history with the previous rep and become familiar with the types of things I buy. It would save time and create a feeling of continuity. I usually suggest a tour of the museum shop when a new rep or vendor is visiting — just so they can get a sense of what we are about!

Monica North
St Francis Hospitals
Beech Grove, IN

I think my biggest frustration is not receiving a copy of the order before the merchandise gets here. It takes so much longer to get it checked in and put out if I haven’t already done a purchasing order for it. I also have a message on my phone stating that ‘I’m not seeing vendors, so please don’t leave a message,’ but every day I get multiple messages left on it anyway.

Last but not least are companies that don’t invoice in a timely fashion and then want to add on overdue charges. I really appreciate my vendors that go out of their way to help me get what I need, in the quantity I need and when I need it.

Tanya Meadows
WindSmith Museum Store
Lubbock, Texas

Being a small specialty gift shop with not much store room area, I find that vendors who require large quantity purchases are the most frustrating for us. I can handle two or three dozen of an item, but when they tell me I have to order 250, that puts them out of our reach. If they can handle $100 to $150 minimum purchases, then that is a vender we can work with.

The next is the vendor who calls you and just wants to tell you about today’s special of 500 widgets, and if you tell them you’re not interested, then they have 300 of another widget. If you say no, then there’s 250 of this widget, etc. and they won’t take no or for an answer. Sometimes I have to almost be rude to get off the phone with the representative.

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