Nissan and Starbucks might be creating thousands of jobs, but consultancy firm Deloitte says nearly 10,000 workers were let go in the first quarter as Past Times, Peacocks, Game, La Senza, and Blacks all faltered on the High Street.
Itâ€™s not a particularly cheery backdrop for Saxon Distribution to be selling into car accessory retailers then. The company is behind Little Tree (not Magic any more), but also does Hycote paint, Sonax car care, CTEK battery chargers, Slime, Rolson and, most recently, has introduced Bell tyre inflaters to the UK.
We went out on the road with Area Sales Manager salesmen Nathan Flower for a day to see what life is like in the negotiations between supplier and retailer at the moment. Heâ€™s been with Saxon six years, and has another 21 years under his belt with Maccess.
â€œThere no point being negative, youâ€™ve got to be positive. There are people out there who are willing to do it and are doing it right,â€ says Flower whose job of selling is made even harder by having us around.
Itâ€™s notable that of the two Bristol retailers we visited â€“ Flower would normally visit more â€“ neither wanted to be pictured or named in the article.
The first was a pure retailer, friendly enough, but pretty downbeat on the products Flower was trying to sell, particularly a new car care kit. It would need to sold to the public for the price he was being asked to pay Saxon, he reckons.
Flower tries to vouch for its quality, but itâ€™s no dice and no mincing of words with the retailer who says the product would never get past the likes of Autoglym on already overstuffed car care shelves.
â€œWhatâ€™s the next big thing, whereâ€™s the next waveâ€ they ask? How are their bike sales? About 15% of turnover, but why would we want to turn ourselves a bike shop, weâ€™re a car accessory retailer? Okay, but other retailers count on bikes for 35% of turnover, so perhaps thereâ€™s scope for growth without the need to abandon cars entirely.
What about other leisure activities? Manbat reckons thereâ€™s good mileage in leisure batteries, so what about that? The CTEK chargers that Saxon supply do well the retailer says, albeit with grumbles of online prices, but there seems to be little appetite to take the leisure market beyond the roof box business which is beginning to pick up.
How about Digital Audio Broadcast? The retailer points to a sign heâ€™s had up in the window for 18 months and says heâ€™s still waiting for the flood. Why doesnâ€™t Saxon offer a conversion kit?
Saxon is working on one, but itâ€™s no surprise there isnâ€™t a flood of motorists demanding the technology since the switchover to digital is beset by seemingly endless delays. Even then itâ€™s more of a one-shot opportunity than continual business, so this isnâ€™t a magic bullet either.
Tough stuff and no sale, although the retailers is doing a stock take and says he will be in touch. Flower would usually help with the take, but heâ€™s babysitting us.
Our second visit is to factor/retailer, so things arenâ€™t quite as tight here as the first outfit. Flower manages to sell in some product, upsells on some fluids so the retailer gets a volume discount and chases up an order for Hycote paint product.
Given the amount of retail space devoted to the paint it appears to be doing well, so itâ€™s encouraging to see that
The Little Tree brand with itâ€™s enormous amount of recognition, even with a new name. Saxon Chief Executive David Kent says the name change hasnâ€™t had any impact on sales, the shape of the tree doing 99% of the work in selling the product.
Itâ€™s clearly a very hard sell for the retailer at the moment, and itâ€™s a hard sell for Flower, too. Itâ€™s obvious that heâ€™s got a strong, close working relationship with his contacts, but theyâ€™re looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. Like many other retail sectors, getting sales is a bit too much like getting blood out of a stone at the moment.
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