Our panel of C-Store Champions discuss the mutual benefits to be had from building good relationships with their suppliers
Sukhjit Khera, founder of the Simply Fresh symbol group
Sukhjit looks specifically for manufacturers that can best portray the Simply Fresh healthy living ethos
Satminder Deo, three Costcutter stores in Yorkshire
Satminder aims to explore the best ways to create in-store theatre with his manufacturers
Jai Singh, Singh’s Go Local Extra, Wheata Road, Sheffield
Jai connects with his manufacturers by attending trade events and connecting on social media
Donna Morgan, Brownlies of Biggar, South Lanarkshire
Donna attends manufacturers’ product tastings to ensure she selects only the best products
Why is it important to maintain good relationships with manufacturers?
Sukhjit: Manufacturers can really help to guide you. They have a lot of insight regarding what’s selling, including planograms, as they carry out research on what sells best in an area and when.
Satminder: It enables retailers to promote their store using the manufacturer’s new products. They also enable retailers to find out what is and isn’t trending.
Jai: Manufacturers are constantly investing in people, products and what the market is doing. Retailers need to build good relationships with manufacturers so they can tap into those resources.
Donna: It’s a retailer’s way of finding out what’s happening in the market. Their support can be vital to creating in-store theatre.
Which manufacturers do you speak with directly on a regular basis?
Sukhjit: We work with my key manufacturers regularly and these may not necessarily be the leaders in the market. We look for manufacturers that can offer us the right package for the offer we want to portray: healthy living.
Satminder: I speak to most of my manufacturers once a month and they regularly come to my store. I work especially closely with Nestlé, Cadbury, Imperial Tobacco and Walkers.
Jai: I speak to a lot of manufacturers including Coca-Cola, Nestlé and Red Bull. It’s obvious that many engage more with retailers who take pride in their store as they see value in the relationship.
Donna: After winning the Convenience Store CRA Off Licence of the Year Award in 2014 we have built up a brilliant relationship with Pernod Ricard. They have a great rep who comes and visits us on a regular basis to clue us up on the latest market research and npd.
Do you see manufacturers yourself, or do you delegate this to staff?
Sukhjit: I usually deal with manufacturers myself, meeting them quarterly, either at our offices or inside a store. It’s better to meet in-store as we can physically gauge what we are talking about.
Satminder: All the new lines or changes in the store go through me and my wife. For example, we work closely with Imperial Tobacco discussing which lines are selling the best.
Jai: I try to be in store to meet with the reps and will always meet new ones myself, but if I can’t I leave them in the capable hands of my staff.
Donna: I usually speak to them myself as it’s the best way to get to know a rep/manufacturer. We have certain members of staff who do talk to them, though, if either myself or Bruce are unable to.
How have your relationships with manufacturers changed in recent times?
Sukhjit: Three years ago it was a lot harder, we found ourselves chasing manufacturers. As word spread, though, and our name became more recognised the tables have turned and we are the ones being chased.
Satminder: Now that I have three stores the reps are a lot more interested in what I have to say and are willing to listen to what I want, giving me more opportunities.
Jai: Relationships have become very two-way; a retailer can’t just expect free stock. To grow, retailers have to work with manufacturers as it’s they who have the power to monitor all the departments. We are open to trying anything; if it doesn’t work then we just discontinue it.
Donna: Manufacturers appear to have reduced the number of reps that they have working for them, most likely due to money cuts, and it’s the reps who really help us to build a relationship with the company. Over time more reliance has been put on placing orders over the internet, but this works really well for us.
What areas do you discuss with manufacturers beyond the sales of their specific products?
Sukhjit: For the most it is sales based, but we also discuss npd, what the manufacturer has in the pipeline and whether they have any display units we can use to create theatre in our stores.
Satminder: We explore planograms to decipher how the range is doing. We also look at display equipment such as shelf-edgings and POS to create better in-store theatre.
Jai: We generally discuss planograms, layout in the store and what we stock. Coca-Cola recommended that we stock its new Smart Water, but we weren’t convinced, so they gave us a very good price for the stock and the gamble paid off because we made a 60% profit.
Donna: We look at what promotions the manufacturer has and what the margins are on the products being offered. We are also discussing getting rid of pricemarked tobacco products; the customer can’t see them anyway so it shouldn’t affect sales, and if they want a cheaper pack, we have them.
Is all manufacturer contact good?
Sukhjit: Some companies aren’t as good as others - a few larger ones maybe don’t take the same care and attention as the smaller ones do. But mostly contact is good, especially with our smaller local and niche suppliers who we work a lot with.
Satminder: It is good, but sometimes I do feel they want to come and see us a little too much. I’m all for meeting if there is something new to talk about, but if there isn’t it can be a bit of a waste of time; the meeting needs to benefit us both.
Jai: Some are more proactive than others. For example, selling pet food in-store is a great offering, but I’m finding it really hard to make contact with the reps, and when I do the reps never seem to get very involved.
Donna: It does vary, but we have found it is usually because of how busy or short-staffed the manufacturer is. The same goes for us - sometimes we just don’t have time to talk.
What are the benefits of having good relations with your manufacturers?
Sukhjit: You can get a lot of benefits; they can clue you up about specific categories and ensure you get some of the best promotions. Some of the smaller manufacturers even come into stores to talk to our customers about their products.
Satminder: Retailers are given more guidance. Before it felt like manufacturers were just selling to us; now it actually feels like we have a vital relationship.
Jai: It ensures you are in touch with the market and enables retailers to capitalise in any areas where there are gains to be made. Sometimes you can even settle a sale or return agreement.
Donna: Good relationships enable retailers to trial the newest product innovations.
How do you think manufacturers benefit from having better relationships with c-stores?
Sukhjit: Good relationships with us ensure they get good sales data, meaning they can analyse it for their own use. It also creates brand awareness, one of the main things most manufacturers understandably are looking for.
Satminder: The c-store market is growing and manufacturers are beginning to realise that. We’re very different from the multiples; we talk to our customers and can advertise manufacturers’ products further by doing so.
Jai: It enables them to get more products in the market and they are able to assess the areas they are doing best in. Depending on how receptive the retailer is, reps can also bring merchandise into the store, creating even more theatre about their brand.
Donna: At the end of the day they want their products on your shelves, so that’s a major benefit on their part if the retailer accepts. Hopefully, manufacturers can see that we are supporting them and in return continue to give us something back.
How could relationships with manufacturers be improved?
Sukhjit: They are generally pretty good, but it would be nice if some manufacturers better understood that it’s more about building a strong, long-term relationship than getting their product out there. And the relationship needs to benefit everyone.
Satminder: It would be great if they could organise more giveaways to attract customers. Also I feel like none of my feedback actually goes back to the head office; it seems when I talk to the reps it’s falling on deaf ears.
Jai: One thing I’d like to see more of is in-store theatre. We can’t stock everything, but we will always try and it helps if there’s some merchandise to accompany it.
Donna: I think communication is vital. When reps come to the store it is a lot more beneficial than when we speak over the phone, so I’d like to see more of this in the future from all manufacturers.
What would your advice be to retailers who don’t have a strong relationship with their key manufacturers?
Sukhjit: It’s well worth engaging; even if you have to make a lot of effort in the beginning it will be beneficial to your business. And don’t just focus on the big manufacturers; the smaller local ones are great, too, as they will help you create a point of difference.
Satminder: If a retailer isn’t making the most of relationships they are missing out. They can be very beneficial; retailers just have to work at it and show an interest and enthusiasm in their products.
Jai: With the economic climate as it is currently, retailers need good, reliable manufacturers. Standards have never been so high in the convenience market and that’s why good relationships are so important. Attending trade events and connecting with manufacturers on social media can be a good way of communicating.
Donna: Get yourself a good selection and build up a great relationship. It’s hard to start with, but going to events and trade shows can be a great way to get your name out there and network with the right people.
What recent initatives have you worked on with manufacturers?
Sukhjit: Some manufacturers have been known to give us personalised displays, while others have given prizes so we can run our own competitions in-store. We were sent some England Cricket T-shirts which our retailers are raffling off in store.
Satminder: A while ago one of the beer brands gave us beer glasses to give out with the products. But more recently we have worked with our local suppliers organising hot food tastings at the food-to-go counter.
Jai: We worked with Arla Foods on our chilled offering. They re-organised and re-stocked our chilled fridges, primarily our dairy range, with products we had never stocked before. It was a matter of trial and error, but we now have it right and sales are a lot better than before.
Donna: Along with Pernod Ricard we have worked with a few of our local manufacturers. Simple Simon’s Pies came into the store and set up some tastings for us. Similarly, our new curry supplier is also going to be setting up some tastings later on in the summer to help raise the profile of their product.
How do you get information from your manufacturers?
Sukhjit: Most manufacturers have a website these days. But we generally contact them directly for information, either by email or phone. They will send us over new product innovations or promotions and we can forward these onto our retailers.
Satminder: We get a lot from the trade press and the National Convenience Show each year in Birmingham. We don’t use the manufacturers’ websites so much, but do speak to them a lot in person.
Jai: I go onto the websites where possible, and I very often sign up to them, too. This enables me to see their most up-to-date planograms. I tend to monitor these sites closely, especially when it comes to Walkers, Kellogg’s and Warburtons.
Donna: We speak to them over the phone and via email, but find trade events a great way to meet lots of manufacturers at once. We were recently at a Best-One seminar in Edinburgh; it enabled us to look at how we could enhance different parts of the shop using different manufacturers.