Mark My Words—July 2018

By Mark Lipton,

  Filed under: Departments, Mark My Words

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Contributing Writer


The Cherry Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree

“Fight the ease of looking at a full line and dig into the pieces of a line, too.”

There are telltale signs all around my house that my daughter is home for the summer: the container of mixed nuts is nothing more than a half container of almonds, the sausage and peppers leftovers are just peppers, and my wallet has nothing in it but fives and tens. Let’s just say that these days, when you feel like munching on some party mix in our house, it’s best to open a fresh bag!

I have learned to live with my daughter’s cherry picking. It’s only really annoying when I want a cashew, a piece of sausage, or need to spend more than $19! In this house, like in most, I’m sure, my daughter always got first dibs and generally speaking…the rules on sharing didn’t apply to her. So I guess I understand why she feels it’s OK to eat all the chicken out of the leftover chicken and broccoli.

But there is a lesson from her here—and now my daughter is not the only Lipton who has made cherry picking an art form!

Manufacturers and their reps are always trying to sell full programs to dealers. I get it. They invest a lot of money in developing complete lines or systems and they want a return on that investment. By necessity though, these programs can be fairly large because they want to appeal to a wide range of dealers and end users. But that doesn’t mean large programs appeal to me!

I used to be inclined to take on full lines. When I was younger it felt better for some reason to say, “We stock the full line of X.” Looking back, I can’t say I know why I felt that way. I would look at a line and if the overall line was turning, I stocked it all without a deeper dive into the details. As I’ve gotten older (and more experienced) though, I have become more like my daughter: take what I want and leave the rest.

Measuring turns is crucial for a retailer. But fight the ease of looking at a full line and dig into the pieces of a line, too. You may find that you have a lot of items collecting dust. That dust can be turned into dollars and invested in either more products or more inventory in what is really turning. Or even better yet, you can put it in your pocket.

For years, we used to keep the same selection of brushes and rollers in both stores; despite the fact that each store has a different customer demographic. When we were doing inventory recently I noticed that one store sold next to no seven-inch rollers. I had always looked at my rollers and saw them as a line: and it was turning well. But a deeper dive showed me that that was because my 9 x 3/8 lintless roller, and a few others, was turning 100X a year! When I looked at the items individually, there were some real dogs. It struck me as odd not to stock the seven-inch rollers anymore: they are part of a whole line, I felt. But I opened up a few feet of space by dropping them, and that made room for more specialized tapes which are doing much better than the seven-inch rollers were.

When you have more than one store, it’s easier to buy “programs” rather than be a cherry picker—but it costs you. Now, I’ve empowered my stores to know what they sell and feel free to drop what they don’t. We no longer sell all the colors on the floor paint charts, we skip sizes in brushes where the sales track record said “we don’t need this” and in turn I’m making space for new items. For years we stocked low-end sprayers to compete with Home Depot, but you know what? People go to Home Depot for them, and not to me. So we dropped them and with that space I added a line of dustless sanders. We’ve sold more sanders in two months than we sold sprayers in several years.

It takes a lot of nerve to eat the cream out of the Oreos and put the cookies back (eeewww), so I doubt any of us will ever be as good a cherry picker as my daughter. But still she teaches a good lesson: take what you want and leave the rest for someone else.

Mark Lipton is the 4th generation owner of Tremont Paint in New York City as well as a consultant to the coatings industry.