The Common Thread Is 'Respect'

I’ve been covering this industry since 1997. There have been some ups and downs, and a great deal of change. One thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that dealers feel like they aren’t treated fairly. My fear is that this is only going to get worse.

The number of lawn and garden retailers shrunk 12% from 2002-2008 even though the industry grew at a healthy pace of nearly 20%. That’s called doing more with less (see story on page 8).

Now—with housing and new construction recovering at a snail’s pace, the average consumer drowning in debt, and the rate of population growth slowing—what is going to happen to the size of the dealer network over the next five, 10 or 15 years? Furthermore, what would happen to a handful of notable manufacturers if, for instance, 20% of the remaining dealers can’t sustain it much longer?

If dealers and their suppliers do not work together to accommodate a changing marketplace, members of both factions are going to pay a hefty price.

While compiling research for our cover story, it became apparent to me that different types of dealers get upset for different reasons. Smaller dealers get upset because larger dealers are supposedly given an unfair advantage via volume discounts. Larger dealers get upset when a supplier sets up additional dealers in the area, many of which are smaller.

These feelings of being taken advantage of, deceived and/or betrayed speak to a common thread across all dealers: the desire to be respected. This is different than those day-to-day frustrations resulting from a shipment arriving late, etc.

I hear from dealers about those day-to-day frustrations a lot more than I hear about respect issues. But the grievances over being disrespected seem to be much more frequent over the past year or two. That’s not good. Those types of feelings are what poison relationships, both business and personal.

Remember that respect must be earned by doing a good job consistently, always striving to do even better, being professional and honest, and sticking by your principles. Most importantly, one earns respect by granting respect to others—when others have earned that respect themselves.

That’s right: Respect is a two-way street. Suppliers also get upset, especially when a dealer takes on a competing product line after what that supplier thought were years of loyalty and friendship with that dealer. It’s your business to do with as you choose, of course, but your supplier’s business is to do with as he or she chooses, too.

I have no business preaching to you guys, and trust me, I’m not trying to. I’m just reminding because during tough times things like respect can fall by the wayside. But at the end of the day, respect is what matters the most—and it’s what is going to help this industry navigate the next however many years.