Building relationships with local suppliers enables you to try out a variety of different products and establish what stock works best for your store. By being flexible you can have a year-round local supply that delivers footfall

Between my Londis and Budgens stores I’m working with around 50 local suppliers and things are going really well.

I’ve got one lady selling good quality olives, for example, another supplying handmade cakes, two companies selling local or speciality cheeses, and we’ve just had a lady from a company called The Chai Stop coming in to sample curries.

These are suppliers that we meet all over the place. We find some on the internet. There are lots of farmers around here, so we go to farmers markets to source products. There are several local firms in and around town too, and we also get recommendations from other shopkeepers at the local business meetings we attend every Friday.

The best way to work with them is to be flexible and be prepared to work on a trial and error basis, working out a different deal each time. In some cases we operate on share of profits, with others we work on margins, or we buy products to sell ourselves.

rn-house-ad1In the case of our cake supplier, she originally offered to provide us with her best-selling products, but they didn’t sell that well in our store. So she offered to make a fruit cake exclusively for us, with ingredients grown in Kent, and we now sell over 20 of these per week, getting them in at around £2.10 and selling them for £4.99. We’re starting to build a reputation for this and get customers asking where our special cheeses and cakes are.

I met our olive supplier two years ago. Her products are well known around here so we spent time negotiating a deal with her. Now she comes in every week, we buy around 15 cases from her at £2 a box, sell them at £2.99, based on her prices elsewhere, and sell out every time.

We’ve set her up with her own barcode and tickets so she can sell them in-store herself.

We often have suppliers in doing sampling, because this naturally has a faster rate of sale than selling products from shelves. So one company sells unusual cheeses from across the country, we also have a cheese maker from Canterbury, and we’ve had sampling pods for local strawberries, which were really popular over the summer.

And some companies have seasonal products. Last year we started selling hampers at Christmas time. We priced these between £12 and £100 to give people choice, and displayed them by the front door in Budgens. But the company we source them from also does a summer range, which we could consider for next year.

Much of what we do depends on the relationship with have with the supplier. We work well with several companies in our Londis in Blean, so we give some of them space to manage. Space is more limited in this store, so we have to keep a close eye on what is selling as it is not sustainable to keep slow-sellers on shelves for long. We can do things on a bigger scale in Budgens, creating more space and setting up tables for sampling.

Developing links with local firms has been a priority for us this year and is something I’m keen to continue doing.

I’m not fooling myself that my customers will stop shopping at Tesco, but we are attracting shoppers back in who used to think this store was too expensive under its previous owners. We want to work with proactive people and source good quality products to sell at fair prices.