The life of an small independent retailer has it's obvious challenges. Big box stores. Amazon.com. Brand recognition. The list is long. Even in the face of all that it can be a rewarding experience. I, personally, enjoy the 3 dimensional puzzle aspect of trying to optimize the business.

But one thing that I have a hard time accepting is when my vendors - the manufacturers - directly compete with me. As an example, one of my long time vendors - who will remain nameless (but their initials are Le Creuset) recently opened a brick and mortar store in an outlet mall near our store. 

Let that sink in for a moment.

The vendor, whose inside salesman recently called me to solicit an order, has a brand new physical location 15 minutes from our little store. They are now a direct competitor. And it gets better:

They are advertising deep discounts!

What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to react to this?

The process of picking which items to stock, and how much, is called Assortment Planning. It is analogous to picking stocks with your IRA: You have a certain amount of money to invest and you want to maximize your return on that investment. I am currently in the process of Assortment Planning for this coming year - and I am wondering aloud if this vendor is going to make the cut.

On the one hand, this is a popular brand - and I am a competitive SOB. Maybe I can figure out a way to beat them at this game.

One the other hand, swimming upstream is so tiring. There are other product options for their category. Some are better quality. Many are less expensive.

Mostly, I am pissed off.

I am not sure, yet, what I will do about this. But I am heading down to Atlanta for a big trade show and the inside sales guy has requested a meeting. You can be sure that I will bring this issue up when we do meet. I want him to explain to me why I should continue to find a place for his products in my Assortment Plan.