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Vendors Dish On COVID Aid For Independents, Coming Back Stronger

As the Coronavirus pandemic spread across the U.S., it was obvious that small businesses were going to take a financial hit. Many had to close their doors or modify strategies in order to capture whatever sales dollars they could.

Realizing how hard the independent gourmet channel was being hit, several vendors stepped in to create solutions. Support ranged from drop ship programs to special online sales, all aimed at helping this segment of the industry make up lost revenue.

“We wanted to do something to help. This gave the retailers an opportunity to keep generating revenue, and allowed them to participate in sales events that are happening online,” said Jason Erskine, director of sales at Zwilling J.A. Henckels USA.

On top of the brand’s digital platform, he said the company also has drop ship capabilities for retailers that prefer a traditional drop ship. During the pandemic, and now as retailers are beginning to reopen, Erskine said the brand’s team members are checking in with shop keepers daily.

“This has proved to become personal and professional support for the retailers, as well as our team. Bonds are definitely being strengthened by this pandemic. We all need each other,” he said.

Matt Berney, director of sales for Range Kleen, said the company also highlighted its drop ship program so retailers could offer a wider selection without bringing product in during a financially difficult time. And, he said, the company made it easy to have product shipped to whichever location was prime.

“We’re fully capable of drop shipping our entire catalog of products directly to the independent retailers, consumers, or to the store for pick-up. Retailers can offer a larger assortment to their supportive community base while incorporating delivery options as consumers shift buying behaviors,” he said.

Bobby Griggs, vp/Heritage Steel cookware and Hammer Stahl cutlery, jumped into action, creating virtual cooking demonstrations for retailers. He tailored the class to each store, to ensure customer needs were being met and would then livestream the classes, connecting Zoom to the retailer’s social media channels.

“The retailer and the vendor [had to]find ways to create the information and knowledge that customers would be getting during an in-store experience. Connecting to the community and creating a personality between themselves and their customers are key,” he said.

Griggs noted the most successful events were those where he and the retailer interacted, explaining, “the back and forth is really fantastic. I want to be able to have interaction with the local retailer during the class.”

Vendors have also been looking ways to help post-COVID. Sara de la Hera, vp/sales and marketing at Zavor, said that following their previous promotions, the Zavor team is planning new promotions that will be in place for longer periods of time and will keep drop shipping to any independent retailer that requests it.

“We will be flexible with minimum order quantities and work with our 3PL partner to extend payment terms,” she added.

In addition, while vendors have jumped in to support the retail community, de la Hera said the support has gone both ways.

“[Retailers] have definitely been supportive. They posted on social media, they have done campaigns to increase their post reach, they have done email blasts and communicated the promotion to the best of their ability. We appreciate all their efforts very much,” she said.

While the pandemic was hard for the entire industry, vendors agreed taking the relationship with retailers to the next level was one of the bright spots that has emerged.

“Our personal connections are deeper, as their success is our success. We have had many customers reach out and let us know how grateful they are for our support,” Erskine said.

Added de la Hera, “We believe helping each other out would be key to making it through and prevailing. It’s evident that the industry has come together to support each other by sharing information that can help businesses in these times. It has shown the support we have for each other and the strength and resilience of the industry itself.”

And, explained Berney, he believes that the cooking and eating habits that were formed during the pandemic will continue for a while, something he hopes will help the industry bounce back sooner rather than later.

“This new normal of ‘residential homesteading’ has created a wave of new trends and potentially long-term behaviors of cooking and eating at home,” he said.

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