Karri T. Perez
President and business consultant, Leading Edge
Associate professor of global resources, University of Guam
A serious issue for small distributors representing a small market is competing for attention and servicing against distributors with huge markets (for example, China). If you are a supplier in New York and you get a call from one of your distributors from a small, remote island versus your largest distributor from China and both are urgent calls regarding sales, which would you take first? The logical business decision is China.
So how can a smaller distributor or a distributor in a small market, which does not contribute as much to a large supplier’s bottom line, get equal — or at least some — attention and servicing? What do you have for leverage if you don’t have size and the ability to deliver huge revenues to your supplier?
You have to be creative. Suggested strategies below are the same ones used by the runt of the litter to survive in a world full of larger puppies.
Keep close to the supplier
Yes, proximity counts. This does not necessarily mean you have to move your business; you can keep close to the source by communicating well and often, especially with today’s technology. Studies have shown that employees who have their offices closest to the boss get promoted more often.
Become the favorite
You may not be the biggest producer of revenue, but you can be the favorite. People want to do business with individuals who are like them or who are likable. It costs you nothing to be nice, and the rewards are huge. Everyone wants to be “mom’s favorite,” including people and puppies.
Gain their sympathy — and their attention
Don’t be above playing the sympathy card. Humans tend to root for the underdog. You are a smaller and weaker player. Don’t be ashamed of it. Own it.
Be assertive, maybe even aggressive
Runts will fight for position, burrowing in and stubbornly protecting their position. Small companies have to do the same. In business, people leverage revenue, but because of your limited market potential or because of your size, you cannot do this. You may have to be demanding to get the attention you need for your business.
Shamelessly self-promote your distributorship to your suppliers; the more they see or hear about you, the more “top of mind” you become. Discuss market share versus total dollar contribution. Use graphs and charts. A pie chart showing that your company “owns” 90% of the market is impressive, even if the actual numbers are small.
Partner for protection and promotion
Partner with one of the bigger companies that you don’t compete with — the largest of the litter if possible. There’s a saying that “birds of a feather flock together.” People will forget how small you are if you are associated with larger market suppliers.
When you do get servicing and product, be appreciative. Someone may be giving up a much greater opportunity for revenue by choosing to service you versus a distributor in a huge market.
Own the uniqueness of doing business on an exotic, tropical island
Fantasy Island may have been a show, but that’s how most people view what it’s like to do business on an island. Remind people about it through referencing the fact frequently when talking with suppliers. Many domestic suppliers claim “bragging rights,” touting that they do international business and have a distributor in the Asia Pacific region. They may take good care of you; many dream of doing an on-site visit to your business.
As PetForum notes: “The runt has to struggle to survive, feed enough and get everything they need, which ultimately will produce a plucky, brave puppy who is no stranger to fighting to get their needs met.”
Even though it can be tough being the smallest distributor in the group or a distributor in a small market, being in this position can build a very strong business model and tough business leaders who are used to fighting for position using a variety of strategies.