Winter storm tips for retailers and distributors

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Manufacturers and distributors need to have a strategy in place and execute it immediately when there is news of an upcoming storm.

In the wake of the latest winter storm, retailers are reminded that they need to prepare and cooperate with manufacturers and distributors ahead of unexpected weather events to avoid disappointing consumers. 

FierceRetail spoke with Michael Elmgreen, CMO and co-founder of Handshake, an industry leader in B2B commerce tech, to get his tips on how to prepare for weather-related events. 

First and foremost, Elmgreen says that storms aren't unexpected; they happen every year. Therefore, manufacturers and distributors need to have a strategy in place and execute it immediately when there is news of an upcoming storm. 

"The faster they put their plan in motion, the more likely they are to meet customer service levels, reduce closes of operating during a high-demand period for shipping, and ensure their own operations feel minimal impact once the storm passes through," Elmgreen said. 

RELATED: Winter storms boost mobile commerce

What does this preparation mean?

First, it means having a deep understanding of inventory and safety stock levels—and, most importantly, where that stock is positioned. For manufacturers and distributors, this is a time where delivering on service levels can really separate the good from the bad. Making it easy for their retail customers to easily place orders for rapid processing, packing and shipping will nurture long-term relationships.

Elmgreen also notes that suppliers need to communicate with retailers so that orders are placed earlier than planned and that the process to pick, pack and ship is started as early as possible. At the same time, it's also good practice to seek suppliers outside of the storm zone. 

In addition, if suppliers have their own transportation fleet, they need to start speeding up deliveries, carrying larger loads, making longer hauls and potentially rerouting deliveries. If suppliers rely on others for shipping, they need to communicate with their providers to lock in deliveries before costs start to rise. 

"As part of their strategy, manufacturers using third-parties for transportation need to identify those providers that can be trusted to deliver on service levels and scale up as necessary, even adding extra budget as part of their strategy to ensure they lock-in their services," Elmgreen added. "They should also have backup plans to see if inbound haulers could handle outbound." 

Being able to easily track the order history both before and after a major weather event helps manufacturers' and distributors' sales and customer service teams to proactively contact retailers to make sure shelves are stocked with the right inventory. This can also help with shipments so trucks can be scheduled before and after the storm. 

RELATED: February sales decline 10% amid winter weather

Elmgreen also warns that retailers can only plan for so much. Manufacturers and distributors will need to monitor the situation as a storm gets closer and continue working with customers throughout the period. 

Mohannad El-Barachi, CEO of SweetIQ, gave one example of a retail client that mapped out a good marketing plan for bad weather. The retailer capitalized on shopper worries by checking Google Trends on Sunday for relevant terms and combined their current ad words with experimental buzzwords related to the storm. Instead of targeting a "grocer near me," the client included a mixture of geo-targeted keywords such as "grocer near me open blizzard." 

"Think of this as the equivalent of including relevant hashtags on social media such as #blizzardstella on your Twitter posts regarding the storm," El-Barachi said. "In conjunction with their Adwords campaign, this client optimized their organic listing by updating all their social pages and listings to highlight that they were remaining open for the storm." 

El-Barachi adds that retailers should continually check Google Trends throughout a storm and once blizzard related phrases start to dip, retailers should return to regular marketing phrases and update their local listings with regular store hours.