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When a Supplier Abruptly Discontinues a Store’s Bestseller, the Owner Is at a Loss as to How to Serve His Customers

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TUESDAYS ARE ALWAYS busy at Massive Mutts Pet Store, a bustling suburban business that caters to large dogs in a neighborhood outside of New York City. Before the store opened, Charlie the owner was going through his latest shipment, which comes in every Monday evening. He shook his head as one of the orders was incorrect. After double-checking and confirming the order was off, he dialed his distributor to see why he received the small marrow bones instead of the large ones.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at . nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com

“Hey Dave, we had a mix-up with one of the lines we order from you regularly, the large marrow bones by BBZ Pets. We just got our shipment and have multiple boxes of the small bones,” Charlie said.

“Hold on, Charlie, let me pull up your order,” Dave said. “Hmm. That is odd. You were supposed to get the large bones. You didn’t get any boxes of the large?”

“No, not one box. They are all the smaller size ones, which we can keep and sell, but we still need the bigger bones,” Charlie said.

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“OK. Let me find out what’s going on and call you back,” Dave said.

Charlie finished unboxing the shipment, he got the store ready to open for the day, greeted his two groomers who were setting up their stations, unlocked the doors and put the A-frame sign on the sidewalk. After flipping over the open sign, he walked over to the register to check on grooming appointments.

As customers came and went in that first hour of being open, one of his regulars, who has a Rottie, purchased two of the large marrow bones.

“Oh, Hercules is going to be a happy boy!” Charlie said.

“He sure is,” Hercules’ dad said. “These are his favorites!”

“Yes, our bestsellers,” Charlie said. “We love this brand. Thanks! Have a great day!”

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Hercules’ dad waved as he walked out of the store.

Just then, Charlie’s phone rang, and it was Dave.

“Hey Dave! So did you find out what the mix-up was?”

“Well, I just found out that they have discontinued the large bones,” Dave said.

“What? Why? Discontinued completely? We have been selling these for a decade! Are you sure,” Charlie asked in shock.

“Yeah, I am sure,” Dave said. “I spoke to the BBZ’s head of sales directly.”

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“How do you discontinue a bestselling line?” Charlie asked. “What am I supposed to replace this with? We specifically buy these because they are sourced and manufactured in the USA and are the best in the market!”

“I am not sure. I am really sorry, Charlie. Let me do some digging to see if I can find a comparable brand for you with the large-sized bones,” Dave said, sounding defeated.

“OK,” Charlie said, “or find out who their supplier is. Maybe we can buy directly from them.”

Charlie hung up and went back to see how many he had left in stock. He let out a big sigh and grumbled under his breath. He had ordered more of the large bones to have on hand for the upcoming Bully Breed Parade in town. That parade always brings many of the big dogs into his store.

The rescue running the parade loves his store and all of the items he stocks for bigger dogs. Charlie also donates a lot of those bones to the rescue knowing that they are good for strong chewers.

“Our bestsellers in that category,” Charlie said out loud to himself. “Why do manufacturers do this to me?”

The Big Questions

  • What would you do to replace your bestselling item that is no longer being manufactured?
  • Why not just use a different company
    making similar products?
  • How do you let your customers know
    about this product no longer being available?
Karen C.
Delavan, WI

I don’t waste much energy worrying about discontinued products, especially treats. Twenty-five years ago, there were way fewer options. Small companies were absorbed by large ones, and products went away forever or were changed so much they weren’t even the similar to the original. Fast forward to 2020, our distributors do a GREAT job of alerting us to upcoming dropped product AND replacing discontinued brands, or slow movers, with other, often better products. Our job has always been to encourage (BEG?) customers to buy/try a wide variety of foods and treats, for the nutritional value, but also because products come and go. Pretty sure I can find a dozen other treats/bones any dog would love. It’s the humans who resist the change!

Pattie Z.
Charlottesville, VA

We had this happen to one of our hands-down, all-time, bestselling training treats. I had plenty of notice that they were not going to offer the product outside his state of manufacturing due to limited supply of the meat ingredient. I looked all over SuperZoo and found three very close substitutes. Those companies gave me bags of the new treats I was considering, and we broke them down into small trial sizes. We attached three trial sizes to the bags of the remaining original product and let our customers vote for the new treat. They were pleased to be part of the buying process and that we gave them as much advance notice as we could. Guess what? We ended up buying all three of the treat lines! Our customers were super happy too!

Stephanie S.
Amarillo, TX

I have had something similar happen. I would go out look for another bone supplier. Even might contact local butchers. I would then bring in first batch and offer a taste-testing for my best frequent customers to see if they pass the test. If they did, then we would celebrate the new bones. Just because something at one store is a bestseller doesn’t mean it’s that way at every store

Mary Beth K.
Kennebunkport, ME

Been there! Our pet boutique relies on tourist traffic and in Maine, it’s all about lobsters. When we lost our bestselling lobster treat a few years ago the first thing we did (after crying and begging) was buy out the vendor’s remaining inventory. When we ran out, our customers were very disappointed. We started an in-store “petition” which appeased a lot of customers and we gave out a lot of other treat samples so customers could find a new favorite. We eventually found some new lobster treats to replace the ones we lost, but we never miss an opportunity to tease our vendor about discontinuing our bestselling treat.

Ramie G.
Evanston, IL

This is the bane of my existence! As a small retailer, we are dependent on the relationships our distibutors have with manufacturers, and it’s always frustrating. There are companies that will sell direct to me, but not all will and not at the price my customer is used to or quantities I can order at once. Most frustrating is when the product no longer exists, frequently because the company is sold and its goods are no longer the same product. Or when the product ends up on Amazon, we will let it go for a better quality, independent-only brand. I look for similar or better quality, a local supplier, and alternative options for everything in the store, trying not to put all my eggs in the same basket or distributor.

Melody F.
Nescopeck, PA

I have had this happen many times. I would start to immediately research on my own and ask my distributor to do the same. If forced to use a different company, I would have to do so. But there is the problem of customer trust. I may buy bones I thought comparable and do a give-away in good faith, to keep my clients’ trust. I would do signage to let the clients know that the product was discontinued. I would explain it was due to no fault with the product, but with demand. I would state that I would do my best to find a comparable product and offer a discount on first purchase.

Paula G.
Muskego, WI

I would search for like items, call and talk with the manufacture to see if they just changed the formula and/or have a similar product. Why not just use a different company making similar products? If the manufacture didn’t have a replacement, I would search out a different manufacture.

Paul L.
Webster, NY

While I’m not in the dog bone business we have had popular products discontinued. My first step is to contact other distributors to see if they have any back stock of the product and if they do I buy as much as I realistically know I can store and sell. If they don’t have the item then I contact the manufacturer and see if it is actually discontinued or just dropped by my distributor. If the product is no longer manufactured then the search is on for the next best thing, hoping to find something as popular or more popular than the original.

Dawn T.
Vero Beach, FL

Research, evaluate your options on other products that could replace the larger bones. Using a different company that makes similar products is an option. To let your customers know this product is no longer available, be honest with them: You are doing your best to find them from another distributor but you may have to resort to another brand. If that happens, maybe offer a free bone for them to try.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. pet business serving the public, you’re invited to join the PETS+ Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and you’ll get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the pet industry. Sign up here.

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com.

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