So Much Product…so little choice!

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As we come into the fall selling season I continue to be struck by the vastness of the supply chain and perplexed by the problem it yields.  On the one hand, it would seem, in a free market sense, choice makes for better opportunity to obtain and select just the right product and get it at just the right price, quality, delivery, etc..  On the other hand, as with choosing from a broad restaurant menu, the best is often hidden by myriad selections that seem different but actually offer little differentiation and end up disappointing….

Manufacturers ( I am sure) despite rhetoric to the contrary, likely long for the days of “sellers’ markets” when there seemed to be order in the market and where manufacturers could direct and dominate dealers, control what was on their floors, and wage selling warfare on their competitors by control of dealers/groups/territory etc.  Not surprisingly, dealers, having discovered China and points east and the veritable cornucopia of supply, have been more than happy to break the manufacturers’ seeming monopoly, opting for “unlabeled” or “private label” to both differentiate and drive profit.  Some large dealers even discovered they had the buying power to drive their own product development and do it well.

So supply has morphed from a “sellers” market” to the extreme opposite…a buyers’ market” with so much selection there seems to be no definable pattern to product uptake.  Buyers travelling in the East for supply?  Meeting with their vendors to discuss products in production and new products on the way?

This is just crazy stuff! It makes no sense!  When will the madness end?

Moving through the shows as I do and seeing the huge availability and broad offering, I have come to believe the choice may actually be too great, the differentiation too little, the value dubious.  Everyone chasing (relatively) the same design genre, finishes, sizing, and price points tends to make everything look the same.  The drive to develop product for the more open market means that often the buying and selling cycles are out of sync.  Production cycles may be 6 to 12 months, buying cycles may be less or more than that.  Large retailers can’t buy until there is an opening, large manufacturers and distributors can’t build until they have critical mass or spend large dollars building inventory at their own risk.  In the mix a lot of effort and money is spent on product that doesn’t ever see the light of day, never hits a retail floor.

I wouldn’t be the first one to say there are too many shows…and there are.  The layering of the shows has shortened product cycles significantly.  When it takes a year to properly develop a new product and bring it to market, quarterly shows which must drive sales become almost absurd.  Add to the mix the “pre-market” distraction and I think we have created an unworkable scenario…one that sees vast dollars spent for often no great response… or not any greater response than might have been expected…had more time been taken.  There’s only so many celebrities, and only so much celebrity endorsement the market can take before that balloon fizzes away into the sky.  Oddly enough, the solution, rather than less shows is more continuous introduction of products.  Less is more.

Rather than waiting for shows and jamming as much into a dealer appointment as possible during market, manufacturers should be bringing product to bear as each is ready.  Don’t hold back for the big launch at a show.  Get a sales base going, show it to dealers when there isn’t huge pressure of time or other distractions…bring it to the next market “new” but ready to deliver.  Shorten the delivery cycle by having new product always ready.

The total (and only) point is to let the extreme needs of both Markets meld.  Manufacturers/distributors would not be any less competitive by slowing down and spacing out new design and product development, and dealers may get a less frenetic, more reflective opportunity to shop and select.  Maybe shows would again become a little more fun?

Maybe we would see good work have a competitive chance to survive?

That’s just crazy!