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Other people's hands in my wallet

After dealing with his suppliers, Mark Hale is left wondering who is really running his business

A customer walked into our shop last week and I approached him with my usual cheerful greeting. I then asked him how much he was looking to spend that day. The look of horror on his face was a picture, and as you can imagine this line of sales patter did not go down too well. I was lucky not to end up with a black eye at the very least.

Many of you who are reading this will be shocked at my bluntness. But let me assure you, it is in fact a totally fictitious scenario that I would never dream of entertaining. First, I would never be so rude as to enquire about someone's financial situation, and second it would probably lose me a potential valuable customer.

So why, I wonder, do some suppliers' agents and reps insist on a similar line of enquiry, usually before they have even shown you their collections? As an independent retailer I am still a great believer in following my gut feeling when looking at ranges, and even if I have some idea from my EPoS sales and profit reports of how much I am looking to spend, this could swing drastically either way depending how strong or weak that particular season's offer is.

For those agents and reps that do this before an appointment, I can assure you there is nothing more disappointing to a retailer than reserving a sizeable amount of our budget to spend on your collection, only to find that next season's offer is seriously weak compared with previous seasons. This is because we have no control over that element of our business and therefore we then have to attempt to find something else to fill the void.

To make matters worse, after placing the order to your own satisfaction you are kindly informed that you haven't reached their budget for you. "What budget is that?" I ask. "Well, based on the past five seasons' spend blah blah blah, we had forecast you would spend this amount."

It's really heart-warming to feel they think so much of my business that they would actually work out my budgets for me. I know it would save me loads of time if while doing this they could perhaps do all my other budgets for suppliers at the same time. Hey, why not do all my appointments for me too while they're at it? They obviously know more about my business than I do.

Then comes the piece de resistance. Having signed everything off, they admit that the collection has generally not been that well received and they have had similar comments regarding the range from a lot of retailers. Why didn't they admit that earlier on when I was wondering whether I was missing something, or feeling that perhaps I had passed my sell-by date as far as my ability to buy was concerned?

So what I will say to those suppliers, reps and agents is this: next time you have your range preview and look at it with disappointment or even horror, don't start planning my budget. Have a word with your designers and give them a hard time instead.

- Mark Hale is the owner of menswear retailer Chessmen in Cardiff.

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