As I’ve mentioned before, my store aims for what I consider to be a “curated inventory”: the products we carry, from strings to books to instruments, must either be a specific customer/teacher request or a product that in our judgment offers the best value and quality in a price bracket. Of course, in a perfect world, products meet both criteria. At least one must be true, though, so we can tell customers “this shoulder rest is the one most teachers ask us for,” or “we’ve looked at a number of tuners on the market, and this is the one we like the most.”

Armed with this endorsement, we can confidently tell our customers that our products will do the job, and, in our opinion, do it better than many or most of the similar products on the market. Our customers increasingly count on these recommendations, and being able to do this grows loyalty, enhances sell-through and boosts profitability, because we order fewer products in greater quantity at a better price.

The problem, of course, is when suppliers are out of, or no longer carry, a product that is part of your curated model stock. It’s much harder to go back and say, “Well, we like product X, but it’s backordered, but….” But what? Here’s our second choice? Here’s the one we make more money on? While I realize many dealers still stock by price point (“Give me a mic I can sell for $79 and make 18 points”), I really believe that the IoCT (Internet of Crappy Things) is beginning to sour people on products that are substandard, knockoffs or fake. That $79 mic needs to be a good value, too, because a shoddy mic is $39 on the IoCT.

So, if you buy into the concept of increased customer loyalty and profitability through curated inventory, your suppliers have to be curated as well. I ran afoul of this during the Christmas season with a couple of suppliers, and had my faith rewarded with others.

An example: I had a customer ask me for a last-minute classical guitar within her budget. I found a good value. Called the supplier. Voicemail. No callback for two days, even after a second call and message. Could I have pushed through to the operator and talked to someone else? Sure, but I initially took it on faith that my rep would call back — and there were about 100 other fires to stoke during the Christmas season, and only one of me.

It turns out our rep was out of the office — but no “out-of-office” message, no automatic push to another rep, just a voicemail black hole. Thankfully, we have plenty of suppliers that aren’t going to drop the ball this way.

But wait, there’s more: We’re down to the last two guitars of that model. Our rep said he’ll check and call if there’s a problem. (Another reason I call: If he can’t trust the computer, I can’t trust his business-to-business site. Not at Christmas, bro….) Two days later, without warning, the box shows up without the guitar. I called and talked to him, and he said the warehouse guys just didn’t find the instruments. He went back to the warehouse and showed them where they were. Two days later, no warning, no guitar. It’s the 18th, and this present won’t be under the tree.

I get that outages happen, instruments get double sold or turn up defective. Sure. But tell me. Don’t let me twist in the wind. That supplier cost me more than that sale — my credibility is in question on anything I do with this customer, if there’s any more business with them in the future.

On a positive note, some suppliers really stepped up, in service, fill rate and speed. I gave a couple of them props on the Veddatorial page on Facebook ( Feel free to check it out and chime in with your hero suppliers.

Finally, even the best suppliers had some stock outage problems this season, but there were some who had a pitiful fill rate. One of two things that usually happens when items are out early in the season: either sales are unexpectedly good and conservative buying left the shelves empty prematurely (one supplier was out of some staple items before Halloween, and still hadn’t gotten replenished by December 15!), or the company can’t buy enough to meet demand and is struggling financially. Yes, I know stuff can get held up in customs or show up defective, but insiders tell me those problems are often exacerbated due to sluggish ordering or gambling on delivery schedules for just-in-time inventory.

Neither situation is a good one. Jobbers especially need to be stocked for small dealers. Folks, Amazon isn’t going to keep you on the map, and if you don’t support the small stores, you’ve got precious little to fall back on. I think this is a much bigger problem in MI than retailers or suppliers believe.

The good news: We can do this. I saw a definite uptick in people who preferred to buy local, even when ordering, as long as I get it in time to be under the tree. They actually like shopping in a nice environment, decorated like the old days, helped by a person who really wants to help give their kids/spouse/friend a great present.

Broader market trends support the idea that people will heavily prioritize their buying for convenience, and further, pay for that convenience. The key here is what the consumer’s idea of “convenient” is. For many, it’s not “change the lock, add a camera and let the Amazon zombie in by remote,” or “The tracking number stopped updating.” Sometimes, it’s really, “Hey Dan, set aside those reeds she uses and a Manhasset stand. And two sets of the guitar strings and a 20-foot cable. I’ll grab them during her lesson, Thursday.”

If this sounds quaintly old-school, so be it. But I think it’s the thing we can do better than a robot, because all those algorithms are just trying to mimic human behaviors wired into our brains. In theory, we’ve still got the edge … if we’re willing to work that hard.

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