Exclusive: Rick Derr – Letter from America

Published on: 5th May 2022

This month, US retailer Rick Derr asks whether an indie toy store is considered a partner or just a customer by its suppliers.

After 20 years working at A.C. Nielsen/D&B Research Company, Rick opened the first Learning Express Toys franchise in the Chicago area in 1996, and then became a sub-franchiser, opening nine more stores. Although leaving the corporate environment behind, he has combined his expertise in data and numbers with a passion for the toy retail space.

In this month’s column, he considers the relationship between suppliers and indie retailers and suggests how it can be improved to both parties’ benefit.

“Although partnerships have come a long way since I started in the business 26 years ago, there is still room for improvement and opportunity,” writes Rick. “Come on suppliers! Why not treat us as your in-person sales force that can test new products, give you first-hand sales data down to the consumer level, test merchandising and planogram decisions and the effects of adjacency in store? How about using us to learn more about colour schemes on shelf, hang tags vs boxed product or video screens versus print signage? And sampling – to me, all this should be part of the conversation, rather than us just negotiating over terms of payment, freight charges and rebates. Yes, these things are important, but there is so much more information and insight which could be exchanged.”

Rick explains that some multinationals and smaller toy companies have caught on, soliciting indie input and allowing retailers to test products early. Over the last year, Learning Express has had the opportunity to test 15-20 new items. “The toy companies receive quality input,” explains Rick, “such as feedback on battery life and ease of installation, packaging, transit costs, seams tearing or whether the instructions to the consumer are confusing. All these issues are presumably traditionally resolved in house with testing firms and focus groups. But is this feedback better than what could be achieved by working with a good independent store?”

To find out more about the sales data and sampling programmes that indie retailers can provide, and how they can help identify the latest trends in almost real time, read the full article, which appeared in the May edition of Toy World, by clicking here.



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