This month we sat down with Skip Lockrem from Parallel Retail Group to pick his brain about retail in general. Over the past few months, we have seen retail change 180 degrees! Skip was kind to take a few minutes out of his busy day to chat with us.
- Tell us more about Parallel Retail Group? What is your role at the company?
Parallel Retail Group is an omni-channel retail service company powered by strategists, merchants, manufacturers, consultants, and operational experts committed to our retailer and brand partners’ mutual success. As the VP of Sales, my focus is to guide emerging technologies across Home and Connected Car into new channels like Best Buy that allow them to drive sustainable sales and profits. I have been with Parallel Sales for 3+ years.
- What activities does manufacturer sales reps actually perform on behalf of the client?
Great question! Our firm is an extension of our manufacturer partners; their goals become our goals, and we are often the most effective and strategic way to build out their Sales and Planning Team. We focus on building out their strategic roadmap, creation of growth initiatives, channel management, visual merchandising, messaging, customer experience, digital strategy, and product positioning. Given that we have leaders who have lived inside the walls of Target, Best Buy, manufacturers, and distributors, we truly believe we bring a substance that becomes the difference maker for many companies.
- We assume as a top sales rep group for Best Buy and Target, your company gets a lot of inbound inquiries from product start-ups wanting you to represent them. What are the key things you look for? What are the red flags that cause you to turn down a potential client for sales representation?
A differentiator and key imperative, is that we focus. We don’t take on everything. We say “no” a lot, which allows us the capacity to go really deep in certain areas. This has led to compounding growth, and it means that we acquire the deep relationships and knowledge that our clients deserve. Another key point, is that we drive “win-win” negotiations. The deal needs to align to the interests of both the retailer and client. We are not about getting the first purchase order. We are about long-term partnerships.
For red flags, we look for companies that are not driven on data and insights, companies that do not understand their purpose and position in the market, companies that have an extreme bias and blind spot around a deal, companies that don’t have the funds or don’t understand the need to invest in brand equity, and companies that do not value digital, just to name a few. We spend a lot of time asking questions. We make decisions in the best interest of our customers, our firm, and the manufacturer. We have to say “no” way more than we say “yes”.
- With COVID-19, how do you see the retail industry changing? What advice would you give to a product start-up who is thinking about entering the retail market today?
The strong will get stronger and consolidation will continue. The digital learning curve has exploded, and customers are looking to do more shopping in a single location. Many aspirational brands understand that they can’t drive positive comps playing with the same partners they played with in the past several years. This means that retailers like Best Buy and Target will get access to better and better brands.
For a start up, I believe they need to think digital first, while having the positioning that will work for the long-range brick and mortar plan (e.g. don’t set a retail price that only works for Amazon or Costco). Also, pressure test if a DTC approach could be self-sustaining. If so, it will take off a lot of pressure. There are many brands that have exploded with online only, and don’t need brick and mortar, and don’t have plans go to brick and mortar. If this allows you to meet your goals, great but eventually a brick and mortar strategy is essential to brand building and customer experience.
- What do you like about working with Retailbound? How is Retailbound different from other agencies that you have worked with before?
Ha! Too much to list! The truth is the Retailbound team takes a similar approach to working with potential manufacturers that Parallel Retail Group does. Anyone can sell in a product, but are you truly vesting in the manufacturers long term success? With Parallel Retail Group and Retailbound, you have an awesome one-stop team focused on both the sell-in as well as the sell-through on behalf of the product manufacturer.
We’ve worked with others in the past that will take anything on. And then they’ll reach out to every rep in their contact list until they get a yes to support the product. If an agency doesn’t ask a good deal of challenging questions, they are doing an injustice to the manufacturer. At Retailbound, you are in good hands with Yohan and his team. They will get you retail-ready, then get our team familiar with your company to sell in at selected channel accounts, and finally once the product is placed in retail, follow through to ensure channel marketing programs that they developed for you are executed properly. You just can’t beat this kind of teamwork from both agencies!