One thing that has really helped our business in the past two years is the relationships that we have built with suppliers.    At the Local Shop Summit in Birmingham last year some retailers said that if you belong to a symbol group you automatically get more help from manufacturers, but I didn’t get any when I started out.  I had to put myself out there, build a decent shop and listen to people’s advice.  I talked to other retailers, made some contacts and met lots of sales reps when they dropped into the store.  I worked well with companies like Coca-Cola and Cadbury from the start.

At this time, we needed help learning about the whole industry so I was more open to reps who really knew their stuff and weren’t in the store just to push their products.  You can tell which companies invest in training their reps.  There are those who drown you in information  who don’t listen, but give you a scripted speech.  The ones who impressed me were the ones who would talk about their competition and how to grow the whole category.  I wanted to learn from them and I did.

I had to trust them to implement their plans and tweak their categories because they knew more than me at that stage.

We built relationships with everyone, so now I can phone people up and ask them to come in and see us.  I’m still open to ideas though.  I met a guy from Heinze a the Local Shop Summit and exchanged details with him.  This was because I spoke to Paul Cheema, who has a store in Coventry, and he told me how good he had found working with Heinz, how open and proactive its reps had been.

That’s what I’m looking for when working witha a company.  They showed him how to merchandise effectively and run promotions.  Since then, I’ve invited Heinz in and I’m getting to the point where I trust and understand its staff.  Sometimes, you need to have complete faith in a company.  I’m now working on in-store promotions with them.  We also have a local fireworks display coming up so we’re looking at sponsorship and deals we can do with Heinz for that too.  I worked with Coca-Cola and Cadbury for the fireworks last year and I’d like to do that again.

Two more who are worth a mention are Country Choice and Heineken.  Country Choice has been really helpful  checking my range and prices to add and delist products and highlighting where we’re not making enough money.  It suggested we do more multipacks, and we’re selling more bakery products as a result.

I’m taking part in Heineken’s Star Retailer initiative and that’s made a big difference to my sales.  I like the fact that it helps with merchandising and its staff are prepared to talk about competitor brands as well as their own.

At first I thought this was just another reward programme, but I’ve seen an 8% – 9% uplift in alcohol sales across the board in the first six to eight weeks.

Heineken has worked with us to remerchandise and delist slow sellers, combining its planograms with our local knowledge and our customer base.  The Heineken rep is really good and knows her stuff, so I’n willing to work with her.  I’d say to other retailers – don’t be afraid to work with suppliers, or to give your sales data out.  Don’t massage your figures.  Be open.  We’ve done this with so many companies now and have really benefited.

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