One of the things that define my business is the range of local and regional products that are stocked. This range tells our customers that the area where they live is of great importance to us. Castle Cary is a small town surrounded by agriculturally productive countryside so our focus for local products is food and drink with an emphasis on fresh. There are a good number of visitors to the town so we also stock a range of ‘gift ideas’ to take advantage to this opportunity.
Having a wide range of local products requires a large number of local suppliers. In fact we have 50 altogether with 20 of them within 10 miles and the closest is less than a mile from our front door. These range from a farmer who provides us with 4 lines including unpasteurized cream that he produces from his own cows milk to one that provides 120 lines. Ultimately what we look for is good quality products that enhance our offer.
Many of our local suppliers have been with us for a long time. In fact we have a good number who were supplying the store before my wife and I bought the business 10 years ago. One of the keys to a great relationship is paying for the stock promptly. While many of these small suppliers are paid on delivery and the for the others who offer credit terms we ensure that we pay them without delay. Doing this means that we are doing our best to support their sometimes challenging cash flow and assists them to stay in business.
Another aspect of these sometime very close relationships is to discuss with the producer what they can do to improve the product by giving them a retailers insight. This can cover pack size and design, how to extend their range or to help us by using barcodes. Taking a small producer to our back office computer and showing them the sales data for their products can be a great experience for them and me.
Sometimes the relationship can fail of course particularly when the quality, range or price diverges from what we need for our business. I will always talk to these suppliers about issues that cloud our relationship, but very occasionally we do lose suppliers.
One of the ways that we leverage these local relationships is to invite suppliers to undertake tastings in our store. Having the producer on hand to passionately talk to customers about their products is great for our store and helps to introduce more customers to the taste of their county. Another way we make the most of these local suppliers is with our cafe. We use our shop suppliers where appropriate to service the needs of this second business. It has added volume to what we buy from several of our local suppliers and given us a near waste free supply chain. The shop allows the cafe a buying flexibility that a stand alone business doesn’t have. A real win.