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Commentary: The Business

Coleby Nicholson: Give Us Our Bread and Butter

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Sure, they can get boring to look at. But those staples keep your business humming.

Sure, they get boring to look at, but staples are what keep business humming along.


The most common complaint I hear from suppliers is that retailers don’t reorder bread-and-butter items quickly enough.

These staples are the mainstays of business: reliable income sources, products that are dependable and regular sellers, and that don’t need heavy promotion and discounting. And yet sometimes it’s a struggle for a vendor to convince a retailer to stock them.

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I had firsthand experience with this when, many years ago, I ran a wholesale sports-apparel business. We were the market leader and we had the No. 1-selling polo shirt.

Although it was a classic bread-and-butter item, the CEO of one of our major accounts representing nearly 100 stores, told me he was thinking about dropping the garment. I was gobsmacked because that one design represented more than $3 million in sales to his business. Worse, the shirt sold itself and we always had stock for a quick refill.

We met, and I asked him how he was going to replace the shirt and he said he didn’t know. So I asked why he wanted to drop the garment and he said his stores were sick of seeing it on display.

He was taken back by my reply: “I don’t give two hoots about what your staff say and think, and nor should you. I only care what your customers think.”

I was ready for his next statement, “I have to listen to (the staff),” so unveiling a store analysis, I replied, “Yes, you do need to listen to them but you don’t need to heed their views.” The store-by-store report showed that sales were not declining.


&#8220The trial cost our business more than $20,000 but it protected the CEO’s $3 million in sales and he could not thank us enough.”

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However he stuck to his guns. “We need something new,” he said. I disagreed and to cut a long story short, two weeks later I went back with a proposal: We would design three new garments and test them in 10 stores. We would put the three new shirts up against our bread-and-butter design to see which was the most successful. The trial would be at no cost to the stores — whatever they didn’t sell could be returned.

I also told him he could be involved in the design of the new garments and then I explained that he would personally design one of the shirts. At first he thought I was joking but I stipulated that was part of the deal. He accepted and we signed off on the idea.

The result? The original shirt outsold all three together; his customers chose the old bread-and-butter product. He was wrong, and guess what? The garment that the CEO designed was the worst seller of all four!

The trial cost our business more than $20,000 but it protected the CEO’s $3 million in sales and, to his credit, he could not thank us enough — his decision could have been disastrous! The trial also changed the way he ran his business, and from that day on, he recognized the importance of bread-and-butter products regardless of what his staff thought. Only the customer’s views mattered.


Coleby Nicholson is publisher of Gunnamatta Media in Melbourne, Australia, which publishes Jeweler magazine. E-mail him at [email protected].

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