When to cut them loose?


PFG, Picture Framing God
Nov 2, 2001
Centennial, CO, USA
I have an interesting situation with a particular distributor. I want to support them, they are small. They carry a couple of cool lines that I am interested in, and seem to have good prices. Recently I made a decision to order more from them and even gave them more space on my wall. I haven't even ordered I'd say more than six or seven frames from them. Well, out of those 6 or 7 orders I have encountered 4, count them 4 out of stocks. This is not good.

Today as I got a call saying the one frame I had ordered is out of stock, I voiced my dismay. I want to work with these people. I was told as nicely as possible that it is as slow for them as it is for me. He pretty much told me that they are hurting as badly as the retailers are. I guess they are trying to fine tune what they have on hand so they aren't carrying unneeded inventory. That must be a very hard thing to tell a customer. It gave me perspective that I am not the only one hurting out there.

My dilemma is how do I continue to support them? As a little guy I know how important it is to support the other little guy. This whole thing feeds on itself. They don't have the stock because I don't have the customers, and when I do have the customers if I can't get the stock I run the chance of upsetting my customers because I have to delay their purchase. This could end up affecting my business. I just had one that took an extra three weeks to get in because something happened somewhere in the shipping process and we all looked like idiots. My customer was eventually pleased but I can't help but think she is always going to remember her first experience with me took forever. Even though I kept her informed every step of the way for the most part nobody knew where her frame was and when it would get here. It was an illuminating example of what happens when you are probably delaying ordering.

I realize I can just call to check availability from here on out. But I'm thinking it is a pain to do that. My first instinct is to take the stuff off the wall and make room for something else, but then that furthers the distributors difficulties. It would be so much easier if they weren't nice people. Plus it is just a sign of the times too..........if business is down for us it will be for them too.

What to do.....what to do..........

[ 07-21-2003, 08:16 PM: Message edited by: Emibub ]

I understand your concern, but I'm not sure they are giving you the straight story. I've been having a real bad time with LaMarche. I am trying to be patient, but my patience is wearing thin. It's been a problem for what must be close to a year with mouldings I would consider basic. Something is wrong over there, and maybe it's money flow, but I tend think it is poor inventory control.

I'm just a compassionate as the next guy, but my business is more important than theirs.

Can you imagine you telling a client that they can't have their frame job until, maybe, sometime in mid August because you can't afford to buy glass?

I now have to call LaMarche to check inventory as I sell the job. It seems that 25% of the time it's discontinued, 25% it has to come from California, and the rest of the time it's OUT OF STOCK!!!

Maybe your little friends buy from LaMarche.

Sorry for the rant, CYOA first!

[ 07-21-2003, 08:50 PM: Message edited by: lessafinger ]
Pull the samples that our out of stock and post- it-note them when they are due back in and check to see that they are available before showing them again. That's the easy part. Plus, it wouldn't be a bad idea to check stock on the few other lines of their's that you are showing.

The other part is a sad part of the decision making process of being a loyal customer. In the past when feeling these type of bad signs I've worked to find alternate sources so I can continue to do my best to service my customers "if" and "when" something happens. Girl scout stuff--be prepared!

I've probably stuck it out too many times to the bitter end (or just rough spots) with some small companies, but do not regret doing so. I've also been known to yank off all samples from a supplier and trash them! IMHO you just gotta do what feels right for you. Sometimes just giving those samples a rest (in a drawer) for awhile is the right thing.

[ 07-21-2003, 09:21 PM: Message edited by: rosetl ]
Keep looking.

There are some good, small distributors out there who rarely have anything out-of-stock and will give you the straight poop when they do.

I've been buying from one of them for about 22 years: Evald Moulding in Watertown, WI. Sometime I'll start a thread about what else makes them so good.

There HAVE to be some in your neck of the woods, Kathy.
Evald was out of stock of 1080-117 for about a month earlier this year after I ordered 500 8 1/2 x 11 readymades of it for the Veterans Memorial we are working on. ;) I always liked the little boxes of gourmet chocolates they used to send with your orders at Xmas. And I always check the newpapers they stuff in the ends of the boxes for crossword puzzles. :D
I guess one of the reasons I am on the fence about this is because they aren't really proven to me. It just isn't starting off well. I really do think it is an economy crunch, not poor inventory control. They do have lines I want though.

Either way, I guess Less is right :eek: my business is more important than theirs.
i worked for a small wholesaler at one point...it was a hard place to be in. you wish to give your customers everything, but when you a re smaller you get pushed around.

i think as a framer you want to deal with some of the little guys, after all you are small too. all i can say is take them down, but tell them you will try to deal with them. if they tell you what they are having trouble with get rid of the samples. if it is all the moulding they carry get rid of them. if you put forth the effort to deal with them and they can't give you solid answers it will only hurt the both of you.

tell them to come back when they are doing better. ask them to send out a rep when they have their situation corrected.
According to the last issue of Decor magazine:

"In 1990 the PPFA reported an estimated 40,000 independent frame shops. In 1999, that number had dropped to between 20,000 and 22,000. With the current economy, global instability, and ... market pressures, we might already have declined to 12,000 by 2004."

. . . and our industries' distributors are having "out of stock" problems?
Originally posted by MAX:
According to the last issue of Decor magazine:

"In 1990 the PPFA reported an estimated 40,000 independent frame shops. In 1999, that number had dropped to between 20,000 and 22,000. With the current economy, global instability, and ... market pressures, we might already have declined to 12,000 by 2004."

. . . and our industries' distributors are having "out of stock" problems?
Max, Why don't you start a new thread on that very subject? I was reading what you said in another thread and I think the article William Parker did sounds like it needs to be discussed. I haven't read the article yet and don't have access to read it just yet or I would start the topic.

You said some interesting things about it though. I think it is something we all need to face.................In fact one of the things this gentleman from my distributor said today was fairly profound..........he said that things are slow for everyone and he also said it isn't like he can go out and drum up new business because it isn't like the market is expanding. Scarey.

In fact the more my mind is ruminating the more I think I need to stick with these people, if they are truly having a problem. I'll just have to come up with a solution we both can work with.

[ 07-21-2003, 11:28 PM: Message edited by: Emibub ]
Somehow I though you might bring that up.

Hey, we all have to pay our bills and adjust or get out of the way.

Hummer doesn't seem to have problems selling.

**** ! those people who can type faster than I think.

[ 07-21-2003, 11:31 PM: Message edited by: lessafinger ]
Not to sound harsh, but your customers probably don't care what the problem is "down the line" - they order a certain look and expect it. If this problem persists it may only come back to bite YOU which isn't fair. I think this is one of those "think like a retailer" issues that William Parker ws talking about.

We deal with a number of vendors and everybody will have issues from time to time. But continuing, ongoing problems (on their part) that effect your business will only hurt you in the long run.

Maybe a sit-down meeting where you can air your gripes and get some feedback will help. We inherited a quality-control issue with a moulding vendor whose initials are D*c*o*. The problem reared it's ugly head for THE LAST TIME (!) when I called the rep. He came by, explained their side, I explained our side, and we ended up with a better discount on all further purchases. Fixed the problem for everyone - they kept me as a customer and I kept them as a source for the ONLY moulding my largest commercial client uses.
I do business with companies that do what they say, when they say, and how they say. Roma and Larson-Juhl immediately come to mind.

I simply terminate those who cant.
4 out of 7 out-of-stock... get rid of them.
The actions/business practices of that type of distributor become the image of your business in the eyes of your customers.

Your customers dont care if the moulding is on a ship or dock somewhere, all they remember is that it took YOU an extra three weeks.
My two cents.
It is admirable to want to support the little guy, but this distributors track record doesn't sound good to me. I think he may be having financial difficulties, which is not your problem. I've seen it before. I would pull the samples and find a replacement. Keep them if you want, maybe they will get their act together, you need people you can rely on.
Originally posted by Emibub:
...a particular distributor. I want to support them, they are small...out of those 6 or 7 orders I have encountered 4, count them 4 out of stocks. This is not good.
Sure, we should support our local suppliers. If they're good, we save big and get great service.

It's nice to be nice, but business is business. If the manufacturer fails the distributor, it's his problem to solve. If the distributor fails you, it's your problem to solve. And if you fail your customer, you can bet she will recognize her problem, and solve it.

The value of any distribution business is time and place value . That is, the distributor's job is to provide what you need when and where you need it. If they do it well, then they deserve your orders. If they don't, then you need to find the distributor that does.

It's that simple. Don't get muddled up in loyalty, or sympathy, or any other excuses for poor performance. Your customers want frames, not excuses.

All of that is easy for me to say, becaue we have a great local distributor. They rarely let us down, and we give them all the business we can.
I appreciate the feedback everybody. I guess the answer is to cut them loose. Maybe I'll tell them I am "suspending" them for the time being. It just doesn't make sense to have to tell my customers there will be a delay or a longer turn around time.

I don't even really feel necessarily loyal to them since I have barely begun working with them. I just like their product, their location makes for inexpensive shipping costs and when they are in stock I can get next day delivery. But none of that matters if I can't get it here when I need it.

I could use the wall space. I plan on redoing my sample wall next week. I probably have five rows of new samples to add in, I guess it will help the elimination process considerably.

Thanks again, everybody. sometimes it just helps to see how others would respond.
Brother Max segues into the problem that Kathy's having.

If we're going to shrink by about 50% you as a business person do not have time, resource, energy, patience, customer satisfaction and other factors to continue to have patience with a supplier that constantly does this.

I know I eliminated a very good local supplier recently who is ALWAYS out of eithr glass--liek 16 x 20 in any size) and lots of Bainbridge archival we use.

Sorry guys. Your prices were real good, your service impeccable, but if you don't have the goods, I've got a PO'd customer.

And in lean times, last thing I need is a PO'd customer.

I refuse to be one of the businesses that folds in the next coupla years. So I watch my dollars and deal only with people who are on target 95% of the time.

Which eliminates a whole buncha people
I have a core of extremely devoted customers. I'll bet Kathy does to.

They probably like dealing with the owner of a small shop. They know what to expect. They're made to feel special when they come in. They can kid around and they know that, if they need something tomorrow, they can ask.

But I don't believe they keep coming back because they think I need the busines, or because they know that the mortality rate for shops like mine (or Kathy's) is staggering. They have to continue to feel like they're getting their money's worth, plus a little extra. If I seriously let them down once or twice, they'd find another shop to be devoted to.

Otherwise we would call them patrons or sponsors, but not customers.

(I suspect I HAVE a couple of sponsors, but that's another story.)

Cut 'em loose, Kathy.
Kathy, I had an artist in my store on Saturday finishing up a picture she had painted. She lives in Denver, and was visiting friends in Seattle. She had gotten the frame, mat, and backing from a local distributor in her area. She didn't want to put it on the airplane coming out with glass on it, so she came in to buy glass from me and have a place to put it together.
I asked who she bought her framing supplies from, as she does framing for other artists out of her home along with framing her own work. She said that she was really disappointed with this local supplier. They were always out of stock, made a lot of mistakes, and didn't seem interested in serving the customer. She indicated that she didn't have many choices of suppliers because she is A)not a business, and B)not a retail framer.
This might be the same supplier.
One of my suppliers went through a rough patch. They had several mouldings that were unique . During that time, I tagged their product lines with a note, and simply checked stock on the item, explaining to the customer that this particular product was having some production problems. Saved time in the long run. It also gave the supplier the opportunity to prove whether they were a good company.
I like buying from people I like. I have bought from the same glass supplier for more than 25 years. That said I firmly believe that controlling your purchasing is one of the most important jobs in a frame shop - particularly molding.

If I accepted every free corner sample available to me I could fill my shop floor to ceiling. Over the last few years I have formulated some guidelines for controlling my vendor selection

1) At a certain point corner samples should become a zero sum game - one corner off for every new one that comes in. There is a limit to the number of samples that can be display and managed. New stuff needs to come in and deadwood has to be removed

2)You are better off being a large customer to small number of vendors than a small customer to large number.

3)Price is only one of several factors when deciding your best source. Quality, delivery logistics and stocking levels are often more important.

4)Be a good customer. Organize your ordering, understand the product, pay your bills and don't quibble over small issues. In return you can demand good service and ask for favors when really needed.

5)Tip delivery drivers well at Christmas time. This expenditure probably has the best return on investment of any we make.

I do a vendor review a couple of times a year. Things that will get a vendor cut loose are pretty simple-- lack of sales, repeated back orders, failure to update our POS regularly, failure to communicate discontinued and out of stocks. Deadwood on the walls can always be replaced by something cool - there are a lot of hungry vendors out there

Peter Bowe
Saline Picture Frame Co.
Originally posted by Terry Scidmore CPF:
I asked who she bought her framing supplies from, as she does framing for other artists out of her home along with framing her own work. She said that she was really disappointed with this local supplier. They were always out of stock, made a lot of mistakes, and didn't seem interested in serving the customer. She indicated that she didn't have many choices of suppliers because she is A)not a business, and B)not a retail framer.
Terry, This isn't the same distributor that I am speaking of. I do deal with these people. I am pretty much forced to. I am ever hopeful their stock levels and attitudes will improve.

The distributors I am referring to were my answer to throwing business somewhere else in answer to poor service elsewhere. So much for that.

One of the things you said there annoys me though. Your customer can deal with these people even though she is not a business or retail operation. These people do deal with anybody who wants to pay for a tax number. The distributor who I started this thread about are trying to stay true to their customers by dealing with store fronts only. The reason I know this is because I had asked why they hadn't contacted a friend of mine who wanted a catalogue. Their response was they only deal with store fronts and she was a "homebased framer". I understand their position on this but I can't help but think they are shooting themselves in the foot by not going after homebased business. I vouched for my friend having a legit business but their position is it is hard to say who is legit and who isn't. I appreciate their position on this but in lean times I think I would rethink it.

Like I said before, I think these people are ethical and struggling, it makes these decisions hard. It is much easier to get fed up with poor service and systematically pull corners off the wall and toss them in the trash. I am feeling way too much empathy because I am ethical and struggling myself.
I had the same problem with another supplier I figured that I had a business to run and that I couldn't do it without moulding. I figure there are enough challenges out there in making customers happy that I didn’t need a supplier to cause more problems. Result: I took the moulding off the wall and sent them back. If it had been one here and one there through out the year fine. But it was the same. 6 or 7 mouldings at a time and I had to wait for 3 months for it to be restocked.
I am seeing this problem with a local supplier also. I have been a good customer for a number of years, but when I asked for a specific item recently, their comment was that they would not be adding anything new for quite awhile. Sounds to me like trouble. They never used to have any out of stocks, but now it seems like they are more and more. I really feel for them. It does put us in a quandry.
Years ago there was a supplier in San Diego called Padre Moulding. I knew the owner, they had been in business for many, many, years. They started to expand their line so that it was comparable to even the largest distributors.

Problem was, they could not keep all their moulding bins full. It got to the point where they were ordering in only 20 to 40 feet per pattern, even the good sellers. They would back order or tell you an item was discontinued, literally, every order, no matter how small your order was.

I had over three hundred of their samples on my wall at the time. The way I handled it was, whenever a moulding was back ordered or discontinued, I simply tossed their sample. It took less than two years to get down to
just a couple of samples.

They went completely out of business within a couple of years after I quit ordering from them. Seems most other frame shops were doing much the same thing.

I guess the lesson here for moulding suppliers is to keep your line at a level you can keep up with. It is much better to be able to fill your orders with a good bread and butter selection of mouldings than it is to have an impressive line that is out of stock continually.