Did I Just Tell a Big Box Retailer No?

Latest posts by Heather Schuck (see all)

Sounds a little unbelievable, but yeah- I did. I won’t name names, but I can tell you that this big box retailer has everything for US Moms. It all started exactly a year ago at a tradeshow in Vegas. Their buyer walked by my booth, smiled, and took off in a flash. I was writing an order with another buyer when it happened and too slow to respond. Should I chase after her, or just finish writing the order for the buyer who had been there first? I went with the latter and then spent the next hour searching the endless aisles for a glimpse of her. No luck. I finally gave up, and clutched to my story of the “big one that got away.”

Fast forward six months and it was Round 2. This time it was a different buyer, but the same company. She had originally stopped at a neighbor’s booth, but immediately came over to get information from me and chat. She was playing hard to get, but I could tell she was interested by all her endless questions. We exchanged information and were talking frequently after the show. I helped her pick the bestsellers for her order and she sent me a manual the size of a phonebook detailing all the compliance they would require from me. With the initial “order” finalized, she sent me one last piece of paperwork to sign. The “drop ship agreement” and oh, by the way, they would need a discount since they were dealing with me directly and not going through a sales representative. Whoa, wait a minute-what? Drop Ship? Discount? And with that, the dream shattered.

I spent the next week trying to convince myself that this was a good deal, and that the added exposure would help solidify the brand, blah…blah…blah. As many times as I tried to crunch the numbers, it just didn’t look good for me. Their requirement for inventory on hand and the added uncertainty of order volume would be a cash flow nightmare. Not to mention the strain on operations that could potentially sabotage my other “high volume, cash up front” customer relationships. Also, I had always focused on my relationships with specialty boutiques. I worried that this big box retailer might undercut my suggested retail prices and cause trouble for them – and myself included. Was the potential payoff worth the risks? In the end, I didn’t think so. I learned a long time ago that if you have to talk yourself into a decision, then it’s probably the wrong decision. The only time things have blown up for me with the business has been when I didn’t trust my instincts. I didn’t want to make that mistake again.

The following Monday I sent a very apologetic and sincere note to the buyer explaining that I couldn’t go forward with selling to their store. I kept it short and sweet and did my best, “it’s not you, it’s me” break-up to date. It may seem like a sad ending, but I promise its not. Ends up another big box retailer had their eye on the line and my heart was a flutter all over again. Once again, no names, but they are known for targeting designers to keep their store offerings unique, with a boutique-like feel. A better fit for my line already and no drop-ship, no discount. What was their only request? “Can we get some samples for a photo shoot? We want to use your clothes for an upcoming ad campaign…” I can handle those kinds of requests!

Moral of the story? As scary as it may be, sometimes saying “no” is the best thing you can do for your business.  This can include turning down sales, firing unprofitable customers, and saying “no” to the industry status quo.  You are the only one who will ever truly have your company’s best interests in mind, this is your greatest responsibility.  Empower yourself to live up to that responsiblity.

Anybody else have a similiar tale?  Let me know what yout think!  As always, please comment below or email me at [email protected].

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