Notes from the other side from the desk…

Part 3: Getting to ‘Yes’!

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.

This instalment of my musings focuses on getting to ‘yes’.
So you’ve managed to get your meeting (tick), you’ve understood the business you’re dealing with (tick), you’ve been thorough and appropriate with your preparation (tick) and you’re as confident as you will ever be (tick tick); is that job done? Nope! Buyers can be fickle, they can be emotional, they can be irrational, they can be disorganised and they can be lazy because they’re all just people. Interactions with a retail buyer can be something that’s shrouded in mystery and potentially demoralizing and demotivating. What I want to do with this post is to offer a peek behind the curtain into the way I would approach a pitch from an artisan supplier, what questions I would ask myself and what my objectives were.
Firstly, and most importantly, I want to try and explain, succinctly, what I was aiming to achieve as a buyer. Put simply, I was aiming to drive as much sales value and profit through the space I had available to me. It’s not rocket science. Extra space meant extra investment, which I didn’t want to spend. So I had to ‘sweat the fixture’ and manage my range to deliver consistently improving profits to make that metre of space more valuable to my business each year. So what sort of things did I need to consider?
Range: was I confident that I offered the right range to cover all the essentials and offer my shoppers something different to ensure that they were loyal to my shops? Unfortunately, if a shopper only buys Heinz Ketchup and I don’t stock it, they will leave to shop somewhere else. So there were some products that I had to stock. I also wanted to excite people with my range and inspire them to spend more money; for example a really great curry sauce could inspire someone to cook a curry tonight and then lead them to also buy a packet of rice, poppadoms, raita, mango chutney, onions, cream, naan breads and some chicken. In that example a £2 jar of curry sauce has just inspired a £15 spend – winning!
Price: this was very important but something that buyers and suppliers can get too easily hung up on. All I needed was the confidence that I wouldn’t be embarrassed by what I saw in the market place and that it would fit within my current range hierarchy. Not all buyers know what their competitors are doing on price but you can be sure if you propose something they’re not familiar with they will check! I also needed to see a strong promotional package. I had seen a number of artisan producers who believed that their product shouldn’t be promoted and it will sell at full value from shelf. It might do at a farm shop but not in mainstream retail. For artisan products, promotions aren’t about trashing prices, they’re about increasing awareness and driving trial. Shoppers are now more savvy than ever but if you can tempt them they’re also adventurous. A shopper is much more likely to try something new if they feel they’re getting more value for money.
Something different: whilst it is important to look sideways at what your competitors are doing, it’s also good to look at what they’re not doing. To be best-in-class I wanted to try new things to give my shoppers something different that wasn’t available anywhere else so, in theory, they’d be loyal shoppers. This ‘something different’ could be anything as simple as a different way of merchandising to a different range or something completely off the wall.
That’s a really superficial, top line view of what I was looking to achieve. However the easiest answer for a buyer is ‘no’; it involves less paperwork, less risk of failure and less cost in clearance. So, how do you make ‘yes’ the easy answer? Well that’s for another blog and another day.
Northern Munkee.