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Commentary: The Business

Andrea Hill: Put the Merchant Back in Retail

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The Business: Put the Merchant Back in Retail

Store owners need to invest more effort into cultivating merchandising skills.

BY ANDREA HILL

Published in the November 2012 issue

The past 30 years have ushered in the most dramatic changes in merchandising and retailing since the end of the barter economy, and retailers in all industries have struggled to embrace and master new retail paradigms. The way we sell, the amount of information available to consumers, the ability of consumers to broadcast opinions about the businesses they visit, competition with businesses all over the world — these are just some of the conditions that retailers one generation ago did not have to understand.

But in spite of all these changes, I believe one thing is truer than ever: Just as there is no retail business without merchandise, there is no profitability without a true merchant guiding the retail business. We are at a time in the jewelry industry when we need to refine and honor — and in some cases actually develop — that role if we want to return to true profitability and cash flow.

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There are many aspects to creating strong merchandising environments, but we need to focus on two broad issues as a starting point. The first is how much time and quality attention to give to selecting, managing, displaying, analyzing and eliminating merchandise.

In my work with retailers around the country, I see how little time busy store owners give to product selection and management. But non-specialty sellers of jewelry — department stores, discounters, and big-boxes — devote a significant percentage of their human resources to merchandising. They are focused on figuring what customers want, how fast product is turning, and how to get rid of slow-movers and replace them with something better.

As an industry, we must find a way to devote more time and cultivate more skills in merchandising, or independents will lose the right to claim they are the true specialty jewelry retailers.

The second area in need of focus is the way vendors and retailers collaborate with one another to serve consumers.

From the vendor side, the expense and security issues related to having salespeople on the road have made selling through trade shows the most desirable approach. From the time-stretched retailer side, there is a tendency to see vendor calls and emails as an imposition rather than a service.

The result is an environment in which retailers make most of their buying decisions at one or two events each year — which doesn’t support a buying culture of constant analysis, market response, merchandise manage-ment and reassessment. We need to enlist the tools available to us to facilitate distance communication — including seeing one another and looking at products — and reinvest in building the kind of strong, informed vendor/retailer relationships that lead to better merchandise strategy.

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COMMENTARY BY ANDREA HILL

Andrea Hill owns Hill Management Group, LLC, which serves small to mid-sized jewelry businesses through its brands StrategyWerx, SupportWerx and MentorWerx. Visit strategywerx.com.

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