Whether it’s shortages of drivers or products, many retailers are finding that the stock that they would usually receive to fill their shelves is no longer turning up in full.
Sudesh Patel, from Coulsdon Londis in Surrey, receives six deliveries a week from Londis, and each day, an average of 30-50 cases of products are not available.
Faced with the unacceptable prospect of gaps on the shelves, retailers have had to find ways to ensure their stores remain as fully stocked as possible for their customers.
For some retailers, it is a case of looking around for other suppliers to fill any gaps that risk appearing on your shelves. But if you haven’t got a large number of staff on hand to mind the store while you’re away, then it can be tricky.
“It’s been tough trying to find alternative places,” says Ranj Hayer, from Hayers Mead Vale in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset. “We don’t have a massive team, so it’s a challenge having to spend time away from the shop trying to get stuff.”
However, it is important that retailers remember that multiples are suffering from similar shortages, and that independent retail often has the swiftness and flexibility to react and to plan ahead, whether it’s finding alternative suppliers – like Terry Caton, of Londis Chesterfield in Derbyshire, who brought in a local butcher to supplement his range – or stocking up in anticipation of shortages or high demand.
“If your trade is ‘just in time’, that’s where the multiples lose out,” says Patel. “With their system, if something runs out then it’s ordered automatically. But if someone clears them out of something, they’re going to be short for a couple of days.
“Whereas I can judge day by day how much I need by myself and I can anticipate and stock up on products I think my customers will need. I can go to the cash and carry buy lots of water and hold onto it.”
Ranj Hayer, from Hayers Mead Vale in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, has largely been impressed with the supply of goods from Booker to his Premier store. There are still “holes” in the supply chain, however, which Booker is “quite open” about, and this requires him to go to smaller wholesalers.
“You can’t rely on one wholesaler anymore,” he says. “You’ve got to diversify. Some of the smaller ones have a little bit of stock now and again. Booker gets lots, but it disappears quite quickly.
“Sometimes we are overpaying, but if you want to keep good availability for your customers you’ve got to swallow that cost.” His primary aim is to get like-for-like replacements for whatever’s missing, as continuity is important.
However, he will put in alternative lines if it’s a choice between that and gaps on the shelves, which he has done recently with water and ready meals.
Don’t be afraid to stock different products
For Sudesh Patel, from Coulsdon Londis in Surrey, a real area of availability concern has been in the crisps section. However, rather than have any empty spaces, he is stocking up on whatever crisps he can get hold of, particularly if they’re from a similar brand, and putting them onto the shelves. “We can’t get Doritos Cool Blue at the moment, so whatever other Doritos I can get, I’m getting and spreading them out,” he says. “On Friday, I got 10 cases of Doritos Red and just filled the space.”
A few years ago, Patel could rely simply on his deliveries from Londis, but now if they haven’t got the stock, he’ll go to Booker’s branch in Wimbledon to take advantage of the different distribution and transportation model that Booker has, which sometimes means they have the products that he’s looking for. There’s also a cash and carry on his way from home to his store, so he can pick up anything else he’s lacking on his way to work.
It can be easy to get frustrated if you can’t procure known sellers, but it’s important to keep a cool head and respond proactively, says Terry Caton, of Londis Chesterfield in Derbyshire. “It’s not a blame game, it’s a case of accepting this is where we are and looking at what we can do.”
Caton’s key piece of advice is to have depth in terms of a supplier base, so if a key product isn’t immediately available, you know where to look next. “It’s about understanding what’s not available from our suppliers, and then looking at what we can source from elsewhere. We’re opening up conversations with an number of suppliers, some of which we’ve worked with before, some of which we haven’t,” he says.
If simply filling your shelves is the priority, Caton recommends knowing what your bestselling alternatives are. He found Seabrook crisps a strong replacement for low Walkers availability.
There might be better deals elsewhere
Suki Patel tended to get the majority of his stock for his store – One Stop Milton in Stoke-on-Trent in Shropshire – via three deliveries a week from One Stop. However, recently he has started going to the cash and carry to get things that are missing from his delivery. Availability issues have made it hard for him to find products that aren’t price-marked, which risks not bringing him the profit margin he’s looking for. “There might be a deal, but they want us to sell them at the price they want,” he says.
He has also found he can’t always get all the flavours he wants, reducing the choice he can offer. These two factors have meant he leaves his store more often to visit cash and carries. “We have to get alternatives to fill up the shelves,” he says. “Our customers understand – they’ve been to other shops and seen things are missing there and they expect things not to be here either. But you need to shop around at the moment.”
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