Goldilocks and the Three Suppliers
These are tough times in our industry, and that necessitates running with peak efficiency. If you think it’s tough buying for your own store, imagine being a Canadian wholesale distributor and having to buy for the entire country. At sales conferences distributors are hyped on upcoming releases, but sometimes the enthusiasm doesn’t transfer to those of us in the retail trenches. On the other end of the spectrum are the sleeper titles that take off unexpectedly through television exposure, social media or word-of-mouth, leaving our suppliers caught short.
So we end up with different types of inventory levels.
Way too much inventory. The best example here was R. G. Mitchell. Once the receivers took over, stores had access to inventory numbers only to discover there were instances where RGM had two cartons of an obscure academic book in stock, when you’d be lucky to sell two copies in Canada in an entire year. I guess they were trying to make a good impression with their publisher partners, and if a title tanked, they could always feature it in an upcoming catalogue in their retail stores. There was little austerity or restraint.
Far too little inventory. The example here would be Foundation Distributing, though I need to qualify that by saying I’m never sure if it’s just me, or if some stock is held back for key accounts and flyer participants. The company certainly plays favorites in all its dealings, and could probably run the whole operation on the basis of the top 20 accounts and tell the rest of us to take a hike. Either way, the fill rates we experience are abysmal. As a retailer, you want to maintain loyalty to your domestic distributor, but at the same time, you want your customers to get things in a timely fashion. I mentioned to them once that their competition is not Send the Light, or Anchor, or Spring Arbor; their competition is Amazon. Should their American publishers insist that FDI has to have one copy of the full catalogue in stock in Canada at all times? It’s not too much to ask.
Just the right amount. The example here would be David C. Cook and no, they didn’t sponsor this article. I don’t know how much of their system is manually controlled and how much is a computer restoring basic minimum inventory quantities. Whatever they do, it appears to be fairly intuitive, ordering what’s needed ahead of time and occasionally reverting to a just-in-time system on the less active titles. For all types of products, the basic levels need to be adjusted periodically. Some titles start selling and you think you’re seeing the tip of the iceberg, when in fact you’re seeing the entire iceberg. An unexpected appearance on 100 Huntley Street or Life Today with James Robison can be a game-changer. I suspect sometimes the pre-pub response determines what the operating minimums will look like. Whatever they do, Cook Canada seems to find the balance between unnecessary large inventory and chronic shortages, though I would also place Augsburg-Fortress Canada in this category.