Since the National Stationery Show ended, there has been a lot of online chatter about who was there and who wasn't, who sells to whom and how, and even which manufacturers are on the "good" list vs. the "naughty" list. Some of this chatter has resulted in some very positive discussions about what retailers want, and how they view manufacturers who license their designs elsewhere or sell direct to consumers online. This is an important discussion, especially in this economy, as manufacturers like hen and barley press rely upon retailers for sales. Similarly, retailers rely upon manufacturers like us for the products that stock their shelves and generate revenue.
It is an interdependent relationship, and for retailers and manufacturers to survive and thrive, we must realize that we are all in this together.
Here's what I learned from retailers and other manufacturers as a result of these discussions:
- Retailers are okay with manufacturers selling direct to consumer or licensing designs to places like Shutterfly or Tiny Prints as long as pricing and shipping terms are the same as those offered to retailers. Translation: don't undercut your retailers.
- Licensing to giants like Target under the same brand name, or worse, using the same designs you sell to the smaller brick & mortar retailers, can tarnish the "specialness" of your brand. Translation: most retailers like lines that are known but not too well known.
- Some retailers have hired design staff to create custom work in-house and therefore capture more margin than they would by simply re-selling products designed by manufacturers like hen and barley press. Translation: fewer sales for manufacturers, which results in more manufacturers trying to find alternative streams of revenue like selling direct or licensing.
The consistent theme that I see upon typing all of this is how intertwined our fates are in this business. Unfortunately, these discussions came only after several manufacturers and online retailers had been bad-mouthed quite publicly, and given how dependent we all are on one another, where does that negativity get us?
Today a new issue popped up. We and several of our boothmates sent out marketing e-mails yesterday advertising post-show specials. Included on these e-mail lists were new contacts collected at the show. As a manufacturer, the one thing you hear from retailers over and over after shows is to be sure to follow up with everyone who stopped in your booth. Like many of our retailers, we've found that e-mail is a great, effective and cheap way to accomplish this, so off went the e-mail, which unwittingly created a firestorm on this blog. hen and barley press, you will note, was publicly chastised for sending our e-mail. Again, the negativity...rather than focusing on the real issue of what one should do with contacts gathered at a trade show, or what exactly ARE the laws governing the sending of marketing e-mails, information retailers and manufacturers alike could really use.
So, the questions of the day are: What should one do with contacts gathered at a trade show? Retailers, how do you want manufacturers to follow up with you after a trade show? If you leave your contact info in a booth at a trade show, what does that mean? Should you reasonably expect to receive information via e-mail, phone or snail mail? Translation: let's have a real exchange of useful information to help us all thrive.
Finally, for those of you who regularly send marketing e-mail, here are the Federal Trade Commission laws on the subject.