new, ideas, business, retail“Get out and mingle,” venture capitalist Luke Johnson advised business people last month. While he targeted his remarks at people sat behind desks, they are equally valid for business leaders who stand behind a counter.

Local retailers need to visit other shops and see what they are doing. In addition, they should attend trade shows and conferences to meet other people and share ideas and know-how.

Ways to “get out and mingle”

They should also think about going somewhere new to refresh their minds. With this idea in my head, I toured the Speciality and Fine Food Fair in London’s Olympia last month – now incorporating Chocolatefair.

While the fair is targeted at fine food outlets, there is plenty for local c-store operators to learn and the first thing is about selling. What is great about this show is that most of the stands are run by small companies or by people who are just starting out. The passion for product excellence really makes a difference.

For example, Rob Bookham is promoting his Sussex Charmer cheese, a cross between a traditional farmhouse cheese and a Parmesan. Charmer has won a number of awards and wearing his bowler hat, Rob cheerfully encourages everyone to have a taste.

Taking my business card, his organisation follows up with a letter and price list within days, including a mobile number for Rob and the promise that if I order £65 worth of stock I will get it delivered free the next day. “That’s UK wide,” he assures me when I call up. The show was great, he says, with more than 35 new customers in the pipeline – some wholesale, some retail.

What he also notes about doing the show is that existing customers have got back in touch and reordered. “We’ve got a small business mentality,” Rob cheerily assures me. This feels like a company that it would be good to do business with.

Also exhibiting were a company selling Palestinian products and a new crisp company from Egypt, artisan bakeries, and some amazing chocolate companies. The catalogue is great and to get one you had to make a donation to a charity to feed the hungry. It is a challenge not to get inspired. It would be a rare retailer who also failed to find at least one great new line to add to their mix.