How to Make the Most of Supplier Markets

Supplier markets, conventions and annual product showcases are the most important road trips retail businesses make each year. These events allow owners and managers to discover the latest and greatest productsfind the best deals to restock their storesand network with their supplier representatives and vendors. The markets also take retailers away from their stores for weeks, which makes doing business difficult. However, there are digital tools that can help optimize those biannual visits by providing easy access to sales and inventory data which helps facilitate wise buying decisions and allows them to keep an eye on how business is going. 

In the hardware industry, supplier markets – hosted by companies such as Orgill Distribution, Ace Hardware, True Value, Emery Jensen, House Hasson, United Hardware and others – are the heart of independent business, pumping new products into stores from coast to coast. Businesses attend these supplier markets to restock their stores for the upcoming season, which often means researching items like leaf blowers, snow shovels and Christmas gifts in the spring and products like home improvement supplies, new mowers and barbecue accessories as the leaves begin falling in autumn. It takes foresight and shrewd business acumen to accurately make those buying and marketing plans. 

Good Scouts are Always Prepared 

“The biggest thing is preparation. Being prepared and having a plan about what you want to do is huge,” says Tim Fulmer, a sales representative for Orgill Distributing, which supplies more than 6,000 retail hardware stores throughout the country. “The good buyers will probably buy about 20% of their annual purchases at each of the shows.” 

Supplier markets are held in locations such as Orlando, Boston, New Orleans, Nashville and Anaheim, California. While some supplier markets are strictly business focusing on products and business-building education, others add entertainment by bringing in celebrities and hosting golf tournaments, tours and concerts 

The supplier markets give store owners or their representatives opportunities to: 

Find deals

Suppliers offer low prices and volume discounts only available at the markets. 

View the latest hardware

Suppliers work with product manufacturers to show off the latest innovations in tools, equipment and building materials.

See new merchandising techniques

Supplier markets often contain demonstration stores that feature the latest in-store product displays and methods.


Supplier markets give store owners a chance to meet with their representatives or product vendors. It allows them to build relationships with the people who can help them build their businesses. 

A Business’s Best Friend 

Sales representatives can be a hardware store’s best friend when it comes to getting ready to attend a supplier market. Good reps provide stores with gobs of information about what’s going to be on sale and more. 

“We have a fabulous salesman who does a great job for us,” says Elizabeth Pettross, who owns Lebanon Distributing with her husband Lee. “He takes our purchase history on spreadsheets and crossreferences that with what we need.” 

Pettross says they purchase a large percentage of their inventory for the year at the supplier markets because of the low prices they get. Supplier markets give businesses a good reason and a great way to get face-to-face with their sales reps. 

Tech Market

There are ways to avoid carrying around binders of spreadsheets and making repeated calls to the store to check on inventory levels or daily business. Mobile technology is helping retail businesses operate as much as it facilitates sales. 

It can really help with buying decisions. That’s what it’s really all about,” says Paladin Data Corporation’s Chief Experience Officer Charles Owen. “It gives you access to data you wouldn’t have otherwise unless you carry around a thick book of your inventory printouts.” 

Paladin’s Mobile Access allows business owners to connect to their store’s database and view inventory levels, sales history, store performance and more. Through a smartphone connection, store owners can plug in product codes and see data such as: 

How much they paid for the item in the past

How many they sold in the past 30 days or past year

Inventory on hand

And this information is available to them as they stroll the display floor at a supplier market. 

With this information, they can really dissect their inventory and make informed buying decisions,” Owen says. “They can know if the prices you see at the supplier markets are good deals. 

Staying in Touch

One of the few downsides to attending supplier markets is being away from the store. But technology can make that absence a little more palatable. Mobile applications allow store owners to keep track of business when they’re not on-site. 

Pettross uses Paladin’s Mobile Access to check on her store’s performance anytime she’s away, sometimes when she’s just running errands around town. 

“It’s my go-to tool. It’s really nice to see where you ended the day,” she says. 

Paladin’s Mobile Access, which is a free feature, allows business owners to not only check on daily revenue, they can look at monthly numbers to see how performance is trending and more. 

Running the Show 

Other digital tools allow businesses to monitor and record lumberyard sales, track deliveries, and capture customer signatures right from tablets or smartphones. 

Remote business management tools give store owners even more control of their stores. These products allow store owners to essentially run their businesses as though they were sitting at their desks from remote locations. 

“All these things are great tools that can assist you when you’re at supplier markets,” says Owen, whose company provides Paladin Pilot remote business management. “They help you keep track of your store. You can check in on things without micromanaging. They allow you to get at your information without interrupting business at your store.” 

The right tools let store owners run their businesses from the road just like they’re sitting in the back-office. 

Brian Bullock