Why My Store Isn’t “A Foundation Store”
My wife and I can sense it within about 30 seconds of entering. A quick look around and I’ll turn to her and say, “It’s a Foundation store;” meaning a store that is heavily invested in inventory from one particular supplier, and does their various marketing programs.
Sixteen years ago, Foundation Distribution moved into my backyard. Door-to-door from my house to their warehouse is 20 minutes, which means about 25 minutes from my store. Relationally, they might as well be in Siberia. I had hoped that with a wholesale distributor that close, maybe I’d be able to help them with a project or two, as I had with IVP Canada, Mainroads Music Group, and the Canadian Bible Society.
Instead, I often found it was all I could do to keep my relationship with them as a customer intact. Right from the very beginning, they wouldn’t release their 800-number to me to place orders. “We’re very busy;” was how the request was answered. (That was the exact substance of the response.) Odd. Apparently I had been labeled, though I don’t know as what; but some baggage had carried over from the R. G. Mitchell days.
Then there was the warehouse sale a few years back. A Foundation staffer started removing things from my shopping cart. “These are for other customers;” I was told. Other customers. Totally humiliating. (Some of the items were put back after I objected.) I have not been to a warehouse sale since. To be really honest, it has more to do with the luncheon; I can’t really eat their food, especially now knowing the Eastern overtones of sharing a meal. I think it would be hypocritical on both our parts to break bread together. Perhaps some year I’ll go back but grab lunch in town or in my car.
Anyway, here’s my track record with the company:
- Customer for 16 years
- Never missed a single payment or bounced a cheque
- Never returned anything that wasn’t defective (but received no extra discount for doing so)
- With two exceptions, never burdened the company with the cost of a sales rep visit
My only major transgression in those 16 years has been showing up to pick up orders at times the entire company shuts down for coffee break or lunch. Apparently, they all eat together. I am guilty of this more times than you can possibly imagine, and my response to the daily shutdown has not been well-received.
So how has my customer loyalty been rewarded?
In 2006, I was given a copy of a book by Steven James called How to Smell Like God. I read a few chapters, but while I still have every review copy I’ve ever received, I don’t know what I did with that one. Even after my other blog took off and review copies of books starting pouring in from other publishers, nothing was forthcoming.
Of course, all stores got a copy of The ESV Study Bible when it released, but I had to really beg for mine, it was a defective copy with the ‘free’ code for the online study option being blank. I do use this Bible regularly however, and we’ve sold enough of them that FDI made back its costs, if there were any.
Oh, and a used copy of The Gospel of John Board Game. We did actually play that as a family for a few hours one night, but it didn’t do well in the store. I think there’s still a copy there.
The two sales visits were a nice gesture, low cost excursions given the short distance from my location to theirs, though I didn’t appreciate leaving my office to help a customer only to find the rep using my computer to make copies. That rep never returned, either; even though I gave him a sizeable order. The second rep visit went far better.
That’s it, apart from the aforementioned lunches at the annual warehouse buying frenzy, and a one-time, last-minute invitation to a dinner at the Orono Town Hall where I have to assume we got in because someone else couldn’t make it.
Despite all this, when Canadian stores started closing in quick succession in 2014, I redoubled my efforts to support Canadian suppliers. We didn’t use STL as much as the CEO of another company accused us of doing, but we did appreciate the convenience and the fill rate they offered. Around the same time however, STL changed their freight terms and with that and the stores shutting down, it seemed like a good time to channel as much business to my wholesale neighbor as possible. I even went through old catalogues and created backlist orders at times when no restock special was being offered; in fact our store receives the basic trade discount and usually little else. To this day, I read every page of every catalogue, and every single email that my telesales rep sends, usually responding to about 25% of them.
In other words, I’ve never sold my soul to FDI like I think some retailers have, but I’m still a loyal customer, in the same sense that a dog will always return to its master even after it has been constantly beaten.
Rather than curse the darkness, let’s light a candle: Here’s what a store/supplier relationship should look like.