The Essentials of Exclusivity: Getting (and Keeping) Exclusive Distribution
By Morgan Panzino
Scoring exclusive distributorship of a popular brand is more than a business milestone. First and foremost, it’s a relationship – and relationships take work. As with most relationships in life and business, it’s essential to learn the skills necessary to attract a partner, seal the deal, and live happily ever after (however that might look), and though it might sound daunting, it doesn’t have to. Approaching this process with common sense is half the battle, something that sounds obvious at first, but there is a finesse to courting and maintaining mutually beneficial business relationships that isn’t innate: respect goes a long way, and honesty, integrity, and fairness help too. For those who could use a pointer or two, let’s break the process down step-by-step:
You’ve scoured trade publications familiarizing yourself with companies you want to work with. You’ve networked with folks at trade shows and you’re ready to sit down and connect. How do you leave a lasting impression during your initial conversations? This step isn’t as strategic as one may think, and good-old-fashioned common sense is the secret. Treat this process as you would starting any relationship – you might notice that some of this advice sounds eerily similar to what we were taught as kids:
Love What You Do: First and foremost, you have to love what you do. Our industry is unique: we buy, sell, ship and all the usual business stuff, but our products put smiles on people’s faces (at the very least!) around the world. There’s no such thing as NSFW in our business and that no-limits freedom is something we love at Sex Toy Distributing. Our enthusiasm is contagious and potential business partners can feel it; from a single conversation, it’s clear that we love our jobs, and that dedication and drive translates into the care we put into our company and those with which we do business. The people and businesses you work with should share similar passion, goals and aspirations – that intersection will help you grow and find even greater success together.
Politeness: When developing exclusive relationships, dance like someone’s watching – because someone always is. Putting your best foot forward at all times is a must. Be on your best behavior and never burn bridges; this industry is small, often compared to high school, and you never know when people will pop up in future business affairs. (And, as happens in high school, people talk.)
Authenticity: Being yourself and acting with genuine authenticity is always a good thing. No matter the context, speaking from a candid and honest place usually leads to more solid relationships, and many people can feel honest energy coming from a mile away.
Honesty: A person is only as good as their word, which is why honesty is crucial. One way to keep expectations in check is to not over-promise. One trade secret I’ve found great success with is the idea of under-promising with the intent to over-deliver – this gives you wiggle room to manage often-unforeseen (and sometimes inevitable) issues interfering with your grand plans. Using this strategy, you’ll be able to deliver exactly what you promise, plus look like a rock star when you unexpectedly go above and beyond the original deal.
Candidness: While honesty is important, you also need to be able to tell people what they may not want to hear. There’s a fine line between being blunt and speaking frankly, but showing an ability to identify and speak to uncomfortable truths can be vital for long-lasting relationships. Tactful straight-shooters often gain respect quickly from the right people.
Timeliness: Respond to all communications quickly. People appreciate promptness. This doesn’t mean you have to have every answer right away; simply communicating the status of orders, product availability, or other action items (even if they’re not yet complete, or even delayed) shows your partners that you respect their time and business and aren’t looking to beat around any bushes. It also shows character being able to speak to what you can and cannot feasibly handle within deadlines.
Once you begin a relationship, how do you nurture it and turn it into something permanent? Giving these customers a tour of your facility, allowing them to meet the staff who’ll be handling their products and brand, and putting a personal touch into introductions can leave a strong impression that promotes trust. This isn’t always an option for every distributor or brand, but this kind of personal touch doesn’t have to be in-person – video conferencing on the regular can also fast-track the relationship. During the courting process, be mindful of the following:
Knowledge-Sharing: Product education furthers the courting process. Materials knowledge is especially useful as is any potential legal or medical issue; think like the end-user and show that you can address any questions that customers and consumers may have.
Generosity: Always give something extra and show customers that you’re there to help them make sales. Working with brands to encourage production of displays, impulse add-ons, posters and signage, or other marketing materials can go a long way. It may also be as simple as providing a free product for use as a tester/sample on the store floor – these are important add-ons that stores need and the brands you work with will appreciate your suggestions.
Patience: Be willing to not get what you want right away. Patience is a virtue. This is especially important with things like importing/exporting, production delays, or supply and demand fluxes.
Guidance: One reason exclusive distributorships can be mutually beneficial is the one-on-one guidance that some smaller or newer brands can take advantage of. Depending on the deal, of course, an exclusive partnership can provide a brand valuable connections, attention, and know-how, especially for brands that are new to the industry. These kinds of relationships give brands access to company reps that can explain processes, answer questions, and provide other crucial support.
Sealing the Deal
When you’re closing in on a deal, it’s important to address needs, responsibilities, deliverables, and measurables in writing – specifically each company’s needs and expectations. This helps manage expectations and avoid pitfalls on both ends of the relationship, while agreeing on the final terms that benefit everyone’s bottom line.
All relationships take work. They must be built on a solid foundation of mutual respect, honesty, and open communication. Cultivating exclusive brand relationships requires many of the same skills used in friendship or romance, and approaching business partnerships in a similar manner may take off the pressure. Keep it simple and use common sense. Be responsive, respectful, and always meet or exceed deliverables. Lastly, when closing the deal, make sure you’re on the same page as your prospective partner; iron out every detail together and put expectations and goals in writing. Adopting this no-nonsense approach may be exactly what you need to close that next exclusive brand deal.