The retailers have spoken and nominated the top agents and customer service staff who look after their needs the best.
“We as retailers have to deal with good and bad agents from suppliers as well as good and terrible admin departments from suppliers and I think it’s time good agents get recognized and bad agents get exposed,” Frankie Sequeira of Novels Sport in De Aar wrote to Sports Trader earlier this year.
“I don’t think suppliers always understand how important their agents are! I have been running Novels for over 17 years – and also grew up in the store – and have seen many agents in my time. Most agents are (thankfully) great and many have become house friends, but there are some who should be doing something else.”
We decided to follow his suggestion to do a survey about what retailers appreciate most about the best and what makes them angry about the worst agents and service departments (see story SAs best retail customer service). They could also nominate the companies/people who serve them the best, second and third best.
Retailers responded with gusto (mostly anonymously) and nominated 41 agencies/sales teams for the service they provide. These were the best of the best*:
- PUMA SAs agents – with Richard Michael (KwaZulu Natal) and Andrew Ross (head office) mentioned by name – were nominated by the highest number of retailer as one of the best three sales teams they deal with. Seventeen percent indicated that they are the best agents to work with;
2. Falke agents – with Allie and Liezel Coetzee in Cape Town singled out twice, and Stuart Cox in Bloemfontein also nominated by name – got the second highest number of nominations from retailers as the best agents;
3. The ASICS SA team – Gerhard Wolmarans and Donovan Shehab singled out – tied in third place with independent agent Stan Holmes with nominations from several retailers.
Just to put this into perspective: there are more than 500 distributors and agents who sell sport, outdoor and lifestyle products to retailers in Southern Africa. It is therefore already an achievement to be one of the 38 agents to be nominated by retailers for supplying a good service. To be one of the top three – which required multiple nominations from several retailers – is exceptional.
On the outside looking in with more than one nomination were Kookaburra agent Leon Lotter, Roy Bennet of John Bain Services, adidas (with Terry Thornton and Pine Pienaar mentioned) and New Balance.
There were a further ten companies/people that were singled out by at least one retailer for offering them the best service (in alphabetical order).
- Sellers of apparel and footwear: Allan Wrankmore, Greg Howe, Mike Wallace and Paul Copson of Brand-ID;
- Sporting goods sellers: LGB’s Admiral sales team, Mike Andrews of Leisure Holdings and Oliver Sport in Durban;
- Outdoor goods sellers: Flo Clarke of Elba Gas, Ram Mountaineering and Sensational Angling.
Others who were nominated as the second and third best agents are (in alphabetical order:
- Sellers of apparel and footwear: Adam Mehtar, American Man, Colin Davies, Craig Courie (Salomon/Jeep), Ingrid of Second Skins, Janine of Hi Tec, Mass Supply, Performance Brands and Peter Bassingthwaighte;
- Sporting goods sellers: Natasha Rossouw of De Wet Sport, Jeff Harman, Nick Wiltshire of Pat Wiltshire Sport, Omni Sport (selling in Durban) and W.E.T. Sport (servicing Mossel Bay);
- Outdoor goods sellers: Adventure Inc, Andrew Taylor from Lite-Optec, Claude from Adrenalin Fishing Products and The Kingfisher.
South Africa is in the unique position that 3 500 of the retailers that sell sport, outdoor and lifestyle goods are independents. They are spread across all geographical areas – often remote – and therefore rely on agents and sales reps to visit them so that they can order stock and stay abreast of the latest product trends.
It is therefore not surprising that more than half (57%) of the retail respondents said that the one element that impresses them most is an agent who visits regularly and stays abreast of what they do. Sadly, more than a third (35%) said that they seldom see any agents or members of suppliers’ sales teams. The good news is that 17% are often visited and nearly half (48%) receive regular visits.
Many retailers still have a close relationship with the agents who visit them – although it is no longer the norm as in days gone by. But, an agent “who knows your business and recommends relevant products” is appreciated most by far the highest number of retailers (74%). An anonymous respondent mentioned that he is most impressed by an agent who knows his birth date.
Efficiency is also appreciated, for example, an agent who immediately contacts you if there is a problem with an order (impresses 52%) and makes sure that your orders are delivered speedily and correctly (48%).
Product knowledge is also important – an agent who knows his products so well that he/she can assist with the training of retail staff impresses, an anonymous respondent said.
“Most agents are partners in our business,” says Sequeira. But there are those who make him angry by “not being honest about their products, to who they sell and not being professional … there are still agents who don’t book appointments in advance and don’t put through orders speedily. Luckily for us they are few!”
‘Ignoring you by never visiting’ and ‘being lax in responding to calls and correspondence from you’ are the things that make nearly two-thirds (65%) of the retail respondents see red. Getting orders wrong annoys 34% of them, while being treated disrespectfully, being encouraged to use an online portal instead of direct contact and trying to convince you that you should stock unsuitable products annoys 30% of the retailers.
“Very poor service and a don’t care attitude,” Shabeer Mayet of Reeds Mans Shop sums up these complaints.
“What you (Sports Trader) should ask is: are you happy with your suppliers supplying coaches to sell to the public and the suppliers selling direct to the public? This is going to destroy retailers at the end of the day!” Tony Jackson complained.
(Direct to consumer is currently a hot topic. Also see the article on new brand strategies; take our survey here and read an article on a previous survey in the Q1 2017 issue of Sports Trader here Selling direct)
*We awarded the following points to each nomination: 3 for the agent or admin department who was rated best, 2 for second best and 1 for third. Most (39%) of the retailers who made nominations are independent sport or specialist sport traders, who would also sell athletic clothing and footwear. One could therefore expect that agents who sell athletic clothing and footwear and sporting goods would be nominated by more retailers. That is why we stress that to be nominated at all is a big compliment – to be nominated as the best (even just by one retailer) is an achievement and to receive multiple nominations is reason for a big celebration.
Retailers were given the opportunity to name agents and service departments who they believe performed below an acceptable standard – but this is not for publication. We did, however, deduct points if an agency was cited as performing badly by one company, but nominated for good service by another.