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Network for Success Extras

By Tim Kidwell
By Hal Miller
Published: March 18, 2010
In the April issue of Model Retailer, we talked to a number of retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers about the positive effects of networking. These professionals told us how they are networking, why, and what the positive affect it's had on their businesses.

We had a lot of good responses; so many that we couldn't fit them all into the April issue. Here are Kimberly Franklin, owner of B&B Sales Co. in Snellville, Ga., Bob Jacobsen of Horizon Hobby and former owner of Galaxy Hobby in Lynwood, Wash., and California Hobby Distributors owner Marta Renna talking about the benefits of networking.
Kim_Franklin
Kimberly Franklin

Kimberly Franklin, Owner, B&B Sales Co., Snellville, GA

Model Retailer: Do you think it benefits your business to establish personal professional relationships with manufacturers and suppliers?

Yes, I do. Establishing a personal professional relationship with both manufacturers and suppliers allows me the opportunity to get first-hand information on new products that I would otherwise have to wait for a press release or print. When my reps call me, they know what I carry in my store and when something new comes across their desk, they let me know. If I didn't have that relationship, then I would know about the product when the public did, and I like being a step ahead.

I also feel like I get better service with the companies I know personally, not to mention when I talk to my customers, I can tell them that I talked to such and such directly. That gives me credibility and my customer then has more confidence in purchasing from me.

Model Retailer: What’s the greatest benefit to you as a dealer from talking to and knowing other dealers? Is it ideas? Is it the benefit of their experience?

The greatest benefit to me is just knowing that I'm not alone in this, hearing other dealers relay their stories of things that have happened to them in their stores, problems with manufacturers, dating, pricing, everything that involves the hobby industry and running a business. Getting ideas is certainly a plus, some things work, some don't, but getting the information allows you to look at the big picture outside of the box we usually put ourselves in. Drawing on their experiences helps make certain decisions if it's something that I'm on the fence about.
Bob_Jacobsen
Bob Jacobsen
Bob Jacobsen, Dealer Development, Horizon Hobby, Champaign, Ill. (Former owner, Galaxy Hobby, Lynnwood, WA)

Model Retailer: Do you think it benefits a retail hobby store to establish personal professional relationships with manufacturers and distributors? Do the distributors encourage it and have their customer service personnel at things like trade shows to meet their customers?

Certainly it is! In fact, I personally went to trade shows mostly for the personal contact and not the product. One of the great things about the NRHSA show was the ability to meet manufacturers and spend some time with them, as opposed to just being about the product. If the manufacturer/distributor/vendor can put a face with the name, then the dealer has won a big battle already and vice versa. As an example, before I opened my store, I was able to meet some of the Horizon management and they knew who I was. I have no doubt that this helped with many aspects of my business (like credit) as I was getting going. From a manufacturer viewpoint, we love to actually spend time with dealers and hear about their challenges with consumers and our products. Knowing the personal stories just make us better at what we do.

Model Retailer: Can you think of a particular instance when you owned the store where knowing who to deal with helped your business or solved a problem?

Many years ago, I was doing a great business with Tamiya (especially R/C on-road cars) and we had a very good parking lot racing program. Because of this, I was able to meet and know lots of the people at Tamiya and eventually made many trips down to their warehouse in California. During these trips, I would walk through the warehouse and had the chance to purchase lots of discontinued or damaged merchandise at great prices. The ability to do this was helped out by the relationship I had with them: we were a good dealer doing lots of business and they knew it. They also knew that we could handle the closeout business well and it was a win/win for everyone.

Model Retailer: What’s the greatest benefit to a dealer from talking to and knowing other dealers? Is it ideas? Is it the benefit of their experience?

Boy, I would have to say both. I have had the chance to meet so many dealers over the years and have the benefit of both their experience and ideas. Before I opened my store, I was able to spend lots of time on the phone with Mike Brey from Hobby Works. I learned a ton from him about who to deal with and the products to carry in what was to be my store. For example, he was having great success by keeping the lines sold to a minimum and not trying to be everything to everyone. I copied his example and it really helped when I first got going. Later on, we would talk regularly to compare notes about suppliers, products or even how seasonal sales were doing. It is great to have a dealer to talk to who is across the county (not a competitor) and bounce things off of.

I also remember a specific example of talking with Walt and Jan Throne at a NRHSA show about their “Secret Santa Sale,” which they held before Thanksgiving every year. I copied their sale pretty much exactly and it was a huge success for me. Just this one simple idea from another retailer made me thousands of dollars in just the first year.

It’s not just in the hobby industry where you want to cultivate those personal relationships. I remember my dad telling me never to use the drive-through window at the bank – too impersonal he said. So ... I always ... went into the bank and always did the deposits myself. I knew all the tellers, the manager and staff and we got along great. One day I was in the bank on a Saturday when only three ladies were working and a very creepy guy came in. I told the manager I would “hang around” and eventually he left. Later, I received a nice thank you from the bank team. Now, do you think I always got great service form that bank? You bet!! They would always take special care of us and it was funny that we never did seem to wait in line. Of course, getting the occasional special service, reference or even handling the credit line was always easy. I knew them and they knew me – simple.

One other thing I always tried to do was to know the other retailers in my area. This was always helpful especially when we had a shoplifting problem, bad check writer or other consumer issue that would travel from store to store. In fact, I once tackled a person who shoplifted in my store in a Hobbytown acoss town! Getting along with the other stores in my area was always easy because we had common issues.

I think the hobby industry is very relationship oriented. Overall, the industry is small, so getting to know other dealers, suppliers and people in the industry is not only easy but fun and worthwhile. Going to shows and getting out of your store can pay big dividends, some of which you can’t imagine until they come along.

Marta Veir Renna, Owner, California Hobby Distributors, Alhambra, Calif.

Model Retailer: From a distributor standpoint, do you find you develop professional relationships with all the dealers who buy from you (or do some just order and that’s about it)?

Our business is based on service and personal relationships. That started with my grandfather (Martin “Pete” Veir) who started the business. The best dealers want a personal relationship. We may be the only distributor that still has on-the-road salesmen.

Sometimes dealers run into problems. We try to work with people with credit trouble. They’re usually appreciative that we helped them get out of trouble.

We’ve been around 100 years. That means something.

Model Retailer: Are trade shows (in person) where you meet most new dealers, or do they tend to find you and contact you by e-mail, phone, etc.?

We get people all those ways. For meeting people in person, the NRHSA show is the best. You can sit down and talk to people.

Model Retailer: Do you think it makes a difference in the success of a business (yours or a dealer’s) to develop professional relationships?

Absolutely. We’ve been strictly for the brick and mortar stores. We don’t sell to the Internet dealers or the basement bombers. Our newest hire has been here 17 years already. They [customers] like our fill rate and our speed at getting out orders. Also that our salespeople have no quotas.
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