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Joanne Teichman: Partners or Competitors?

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The Business: Partners or Competitors?

The first element in a profitable vendor-retailer relationship is trust.

BY JOANNE TEICHMAN 

Published in the June 2012 issue

My inbox is crammed with e-mails from young jewelry designers asking not only for my business, but for advice on how to grow their brands. Reflecting on years of relationships with our own designers — some still partners, some left by the side of the road, and some admittedly on the fence — I have plenty to say, starting with my first challenge: Are you planning on partnering with your retailers? Or competing against them?

Times have changed. Once, the only way a jewelry designer could compete with my brick-and-mortar was to open his own store. The elephant in the room is the Internet, and the need or temptation for designers to now sell direct has turned my corner of the world upside down.

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If you want to do business with me and forge a long-term mutually profitable relationship, here are my suggestions (assuming naturally, that your designs are original, desirable and fit into our assortments):

COMMUNICATE HONESTLY. Be up front with me on your plans, whether they be expansion with other retailers or an Internet launch. There is nothing worse than a sneak surprise, like me waking up one day (with a huge recently-bought inventory) to discover that you are now selling directly on your own website.

PLAY FAIR. If you’re selling directly, are you giving your retailers any advantage for flying your flag? Do we have first shot at selling new lines before you post them? And please, do not compete with your retailers by buying search engine rankings. You can’t have it both ways.

ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR MAJOR RETAILERS. Your “Where to Buy” is four clicks away from finding us. Really? Do customers in Nebraska need to enter a ZIP code to find a wide selection that we have heavily invested in? Or are you expecting (and hoping) they will abandon that search and shop with you directly on your site? As for social media, your retailers (that’s us!) are posting, pinning and tweeting to push your brand. Are you singing our praises on your pages in return?

FLASH SALES, TARGET, HSN, ETC. Do not try to convince me that selling retail at wholesale prices is helping my business, or that costume imitations of yourself will strengthen your brand image in the eyes of my clients. It only helps your cash flow, and in my opinion, only short term.

So when you lay the foundation for how you will grow your design venture, remember this: Business is a partnership, based on simple values, none more important than trust. It has to work both ways!

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