Notes from the other side of the desk…

Part 1: Get My Attention!
I have had the pleasure of being a Retail Food Buyer for two years in the Convenience sector in the UK. As a result of the global financial downturn I noticed a dramatic difference in the size of businesses that were coming to see me; the big boys got bigger, the small got smaller and more niche and the middle got squeezed out. This meant that I had the pleasure of meeting with and, in some cases, working with some very young businesses and I really felt like part of their journey. I must admit some of them did a great job, others…not so much! So I thought I’d pull together a short series of blogs based on my experience and, if you’re a young business wanting to crack mainstream retail, I hope this might be a useful read.
My first subject is all about engaging with the buyer, if you can crack this part you’re probably 50% of the way to getting a listing; but for that reason it’s not easy.
First thing’s first, do your research and find out who the right person is. Do a Google search, a LinkedIn search or ask around. Don’t just send it ‘FAO The Grocery Buyer’. I wouldn’t see anyone that couldn’t be bothered to do a little research. If you’re charming or persistent enough you might even get a receptionist or colleague to give away a name.
Buyers are all very busy, they don’t like having their time wasted. Grab their attention with your product. If you believe in what you’re selling then let it do the selling. Send in a smartly presented sample box with a one-pager on why I should give you 30mins of my time and a way to contact you.
Quickly follow this up with an email or a phone call but don’t leave it too long. My desk was always littered with samples and if it wasn’t important to me at the time I received it it was going to be less important when it goes out of date.
Finally: be appropriate. Understand what this buyer’s workload is like and how up their agenda you are likely to be. Once you make contact offer a wide range of dates to meet so they can be very selective.
Don’t give up the chase. It’s a fine line between being effective and bloody annoying but I remember one new supplier in particular would persistently call me each week and send more samples in every other week. I didn’t particularly want to see him but he wore me down and I agreed to meet him. When we met he was brilliant and I listed four lines there and then. So although I felt he was annoying he got the result he set out to achieve.
I can’t emphasize how difficult this part of the sales call is and therefore it’s really important to have a structured and well thought out approach. It’s really easy for a buyer to ignore an email, screen a phone call or just say no. Make them feel like their missing out and you’re going to make their decision a really easy one when you get there.
Northern Munkee