Speaking before members of the Composite Panel Assn. yesterday at the group's fall meeting, Sauder Woodworking President and CEO Kevin Sauder offered advice for developing a successful sales relationship with retail chains. He listed 10 things he’s learned in his more than 20 years of experience:

 
 Kevin Sauder

1.  Develop relationships at multiple levels. At a big box chain with multiple departments, the buyer you deal with today may not be the same person you deal with three years from now. “So its important to know the merchandise manager, it’s important to know the executive vice president of sales, it’s important to know the logistics people, the operation people…Sauder has spent a lot of time making sure we have multiple connections with the buyers and multiple connections for the companies.”

2.  Along with that, recognize that there are multiple decision makers in each organization. Also know that while they may not always agree, you need develop a relationship at these different levels, so the seller/buyer relationship is tightly bound.

3.  Find out how the buyers are rewarded — and deliver it. “Every company’s buyers are rewarded differently and their bonuses may be based on margin dollars, margin percents, sales dollars, inventory turns, co-op money that they get from the vendors. Ask the questions, because some people do care more about percentages than dollars, and when you deliver that, you’re the hero.”

4.   Learn the customer’s lingo and understand its corporate culture.

5.   Have a blend of margins to offer.

6.  Lower the cost and time of the supply chain. Instead of importing product, Sauder instead converted some of its supply chain to “insourcing,” by using a domestic supplier. Not only did the company save time on delivery and increase its manufacturing flexibility, but as an added benefit, Sauder was able to bring back millions of dollars in purchases “back into the country.”

7.  Cost will usually trump design.

8.  Always have three more good ideas in the pipeline. That way, when buyers ask what’s new, you can go back to them and say “Here’s what we’re working on today.”

9.  It’s OK to walk away from an unprofitable idea, Sauder said. “But make sure you can — that that customer is not 60 percent of your business or you can’t say no.”

10.  Sell to your sweet spot — but keep working to expand that spot. Determine in which areas you excel over your competitors, “but don’t just stick with them, work to expand your sweet spot a little bit, so it’s a focused, but continuous improvement.”

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