Indy Update No. 7

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Once upon a time, in a building just around the corner from where I sit today, I was a Buyer. An Electronics Buyer for a small engineering and manufacturing firm. I was reflecting on what it means to be a buyer of products for a company and how trade shows help that process.

As the buyer I had lots of sales people calling on me. Sometimes they had appointments – many times they just "dropped in to see if I had a minute." I recall that the combination of these two methods of selling sure took up a lot of my buying time. And in a small organization you don't have a lot of spare time – you're usually wearing more than one hat. In my case I was also responsible for the management of that same inventory I was buying, which was an effective way of making sure I didn't buy more than was absolutely necessary.

A buyer for a retail shop has to find the balance of stocking the right parts, accessories and apparel so that when a customer comes in to buy something, it's in stock. As well, a small manufacturer of products has to balance the amount of incoming parts so it manufactures and ships "just in time" — not too soon — so no excess inventory is sitting on the shelf in the stock room. Both of these companies require knowledge of the customer's (or in my case the manufacturing manager's) needs, knowledge or the types of products that are available, and the ability to develop relationships with vendors to make sure you can negotiate favorable pricing, shipping terms and, if needed, the ability to return unsold or unused products.

Buyers are charged with getting the best prices, with the best terms. They have to know what's new, understand customer needs both current and future, and maintain good vendor relationships.

Let's get back to that issue of time. Dealer Expo is a great place to accomplish a lot in a short timeframe. If you're organized — and, let's face it, if you're a buyer you have to be organized — you can map out a plan to visit current suppliers, cement relationships with new suppliers, negotiate very favorable deals, and find out exactly what's new in your industry.

Unless you live under a rock that's under another rock, you know that 2009 is going to present a tough business environment. As the buyer for your retail store, you'll need to make smarter buying decisions. At Dealer Expo you can use as many of the 32 show hours available to you to set yourself up for the remainder of the year. And if you can't do it yourself, bring along others from your store so you can divide and conquer.

At the show, you control everything about the buying experience. You decide whom you want to meet with and what products you want to spend time on. The best part is you will probably find some of the best pricing and terms for the year offered at the show. You'll be in the driver's seat to negotiate with vendors who sell like products and want your business – right there on the spot. (I'm not an advocate of gouging your vendors on pricing to the point of you win and they don't. Relationships are key to successful buying, so if you bring someone to their knees it's not conducive to a long-term healthily relationship. But that doesn't mean you can't ask for the best deal possible. The guy who wants your business the most will deal with you.)

By attending Dealer Expo you will save your retail shop money, you'll be able to further develop your vendor relationships, you'll return home with a much broader understanding of the new products available to you and your customers, and you'll save time in the coming year.

I think the time part of this is always undervalued. But if you sat down and really figured out how much time you spend as a buyer during the course of year researching new products, meeting with suppliers and negotiating prices and terms I believe you would conclude that 32 hours spent in February in Indianapolis results in far more time in your day the rest of the year to focus on other things.

Over 7,000 buyers have already made the decision to come to Dealer Expo. Are you one of them?

Tracy Harris tharris@advanstar.com is vice president of the Advanstar Powersports Group, parent of Dealer Expo and Dealernews