January 09, 2020 I Next Gen Retailing I by Scott Rife

Keys to a Healthy B2B Relationship

In our industry, the relationship between manufacturers and retailers is part of the fabric of our business, and we couldn’t do what we do without each other. However, just as with retailers, not all manufacturers are the same. During my time working in the wholesale part of our industry, I’ve found a few key traits that I feel make for a successful partnership.

A successful manufacturer’s rep will make sure to spend time speaking with as many team members as possible.


As Chip Averwater of Amro Music wrote in his book Retail Truths, “A rep is a bridge over the abyss between manufacturer and retailer.” Ask yourself this: Does your company have a relationship with only one employee at each given manufacturer or distributor? Of course not! The retailer often has to interact with not only their main sales rep, but the accounting, parts and customer service departments – to name just a few.

This wide scope of contact should be expected of your sales reps in return. I always feel that the more of a company’s employees I meet and interact with, the better I begin to understand the retailer’s business. A successful manufacturer’s rep will make sure to spend time speaking with as many team members as possible. I can’t imagine how many times that a repair tech or accounting manager has brought a problem or idea to my attention that I wouldn’t otherwise have known about had I failed to check in with them.

As manufacturers, we try our best to anticipate the needs of our retailers. We will often design products, promotions and programs that try to fill a need, as well as grow the sales of a key category. However, retailers shouldn’t avoid sharing what keeps a certain program or item from being the right fit for their business. The worst thing that can happen in a meeting is for a retailer to smile and nod while not expressing their real opinions. A smart manufacturer will not shy away from a retailer’s objections to anything.


Sharing honest feedback gives vendors and retailers the opportunity to collaborate closely. One size fits all rarely actually does, so expect a strong manufacturing partner to be open to tailoring a program, promotion or policy in a way that fits your business. They, in return, have the right to ask you to compromise as well until you both find an approach that works for everyone. I always enjoy brainstorming with a dealer on how we can modify an existing sales program in a way that meets their goals.


The local music retailer has a boots-on-the-ground perspective that often shows us what works and what doesn’t. As an instrument is put out into the field, the retailer can and should pass along real-world examples of successes and failures. The ideal manufacturer should be able to not only provide you the right product at the right price but also fulfill any needed support on the back end. Band and orchestra instruments will invariably need replacement parts. Are these readily available? Does the manufacturer have a strong track record of standing by their stated warranty? It doesn’t matter if customers are breaking down your door for an item if the company will not stand by it.

Mutual Goals

When I think about some of my strongest relationships with my own retailers, the most important factor is that I’ve tried to adjust my goals to help meet theirs and not the other way around. What’s important to you should be important to your vendors. MI

Scott Rife is a current NAMM Young Professionals member and regional sales manager at Eastman Music Company located in Nashville, Tennessee. NAMM YP consists of young professionals in the music industry.

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