Retailers at the recent Retra conference spoke out against the threat from manufacturers selling products direct to consumers.
The electrical retailers association, celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, has long campaigned against manufacturers selling direct and in his opening speech, chief executive Howard Saycell said: “Let me be clear. It is entirely any brand or suppliers’ choice whether they have a direct relationship with the consumer.
“We believe that manufacturing and retailing are very different skill sets. At their best, they complement one another, ensuring the best possible experience for the consumer. The best possible brand experience is through quality retail, educating the consumer, identifying needs, recommending the right product, delivering, and installing and then looking after the consumer if anything goes wrong. We are not naive enough to think that brands will reverse their decisions to go direct and that more brands will not follow in this direction.”
He concluded: “The challenge we would pose for the UK management is how to protect their current routes to market and ensure as little conflict as possible. The independents can cope with competitors and have done so since the birth of the industry. A brand selling direct is just another competitor. The key to everyone having a sustainable future is that we are all competing on a level playing field.”
A panel discussion at the Retra conference gave retailers a chance to share their thoughts on this general topic.
Paul Mead, MD of Michael R Peters in Bedford, said: “Manufacturers should manufacture and retailers should retail. We are the solution providers.”
Martin Jukes, head of retail at Avensys in Crawley, added: “It needs to be a level playing field. If a manufacturer is offering something, that’s fine. We need to be able to offer it at the same price and still have the display discounts, to put it on show for customers to touch and feel, not go online like I saw yesterday with one white-goods manufacturer offering 25% off if they bought three appliances and it was cheaper to do that than buy from us. That’s not right.”
Rounding off the discussion, Paul Giles, MD of Snellings near Norwich was also outspoken about selling direct. He said: “Suppliers undercutting us online is totally out of order. They are getting the retail margin – that’s not their margin. If they are going to use our showrooms, they need us to promote their brand. How can you spend big money on something if you haven’t seen it somewhere? We are being used as the showroom for their online. That’s where I think we need to draw the line.”
Lending his support to these views on a separate discussion panel at the conference, Steve Jones, MD of buying group Sirius, said: “Manufacturers need to be more transparent in what they are doing and I hope they don’t forget how independent retailers help build up their brands over the years. If you lose customer service, you lose the value in your brand.”
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