Which suppliers do you have a direct relationship with?

Dean: Smiths News, Wiseman Dairies, Allied Bakeries and Country Choice plus wholesalers and local suppliers.

Raj: Primarily, I deal with Londis, but I also have good relationships with JTI, Nestlé and Cadbury.

Simon: First Choice Cash & Carry it does good deals and provides a delivery service. I also have relationships with Walkers, the tobacco companies, Cadbury, Coca-Cola, P&G and Unilever.

Mark: I work with Jason Quinn, general manager at Booker's Middleton depot, and Scottish & Newcastle, Constellation Brands, Fosters Wine, Carlsberg Tetley and Coors.

What are the main benefits of a direct relationship?

Dean: For a product such as milk, for example, you are assured a delivery time that suits and good quality produce.

Raj: You can hear new product news from reps quicker than you would from your symbol group. They can also offer help with point of sale material.

Simon: If you can buy product cheaper than at the cash & carry, then that's a positive. Reps are also good at letting you know about new products.

Mark: They can tell you about market trends and if there's a sporting event you can dovetail into your promotional plans. They also supply pos material.

Who is the best manufacturer you deal with and why?

Dean: Wiseman is our best supplier a good product at a good price. As a company, the way it markets its products is second to none. A field rep visits every four to six weeks and helps merchandise the fridges it's great to work with someone who has marketing expertise.

Raj: Gallaher is my favourite supplier. I've found the team really helpful. If we carry a new product they'll give us extra for free. They also offer advice on legislation.

Simon: The Walkers rep has been very good supplying a new stand and showing me how to display products on it.

Mark: Coors is particularly good. They run ideas past me and they benefit from my feedback.

How would you deal with a problem supplier?

Dean: The best thing is to take your problem up with the sales rep. If you don't get any joy, then go higher up. If you're still not happy, then you have to look at what else is available.

Raj: Just tell them to get out of your store. In the past we've dealt with suppliers that give merchandising advice on their category, but it's so biased that it kills off other best-sellers. I made a decision a few years ago that suppliers couldn't change the fixture until they'd designed a planogram that I'd approved.

Simon: Speak to management. I had a milk supplier who kept giving us leaky containers. I told him I wasn't happy, but it didn't change and I left the supplier. Eventually, the service improved and I returned. It's not worth burning your bridges after all, the next supplier could be worse!

Mark: Contact the sales rep first, then if you need to take it further speak to someone higher up.

What are your biggest supplier bugbears?

Dean: We had a long relationship with Dairy Crest, but we found that the quality of the milk's packaging was poor it was always dirty, so it added an extra 15 minutes to our job every day having to wipe down the packs.

Raj: Suppliers tend to favour the mults over us and the difference between the prices they offer us compared with supermarkets really frustrates me.

Simon: Damaged stock or products that have too short a shelf-life can be irritating.

Mark: My biggest bugbear is that the mults get multipack deals and suppliers claim that they don't have a hand in it. It's sometimes cheaper to buy from the supermarket than my supplier.

What could suppliers do to make life easier?

Dean: There's a fine balance between regular contact with a supplier and too much contact. We get a lot of unnecessary phone calls.

Raj: Giving better promotions and deals would be a good start.

Simon: I've found I'm buying quite a lot of stuff online now, so if more suppliers offered that it would be useful.

Mark: Suppliers could email us with information and tell us about their websites, where we could pick up useful information such as tasting notes on wine.

Has the recession helped or hindered supplier relations?

Dean: I'd say it has enhanced it. I've just had a visit from Country Choice introducing a new £1 range. They're being much more pro-active in the current climate.

Raj: Suppliers are more willing to talk to retailers as they need every bit of help they can get.

Simon: Since the recession we're offered far better deals, so things have improved.

Mark: Manufacturers have now realised that independents are a big route to market and that we can really make things happen.

What research do you do before dealing with a new supplier?

Dean: I try the product first with either staff, family or customers.

Raj: I look at the service levels they provide, the product itself, and the marketing service, and then I'll make a call.

Simon: I usually find out about suppliers through word of mouth. I speak to other retailers and get their recommendations. If a sales rep makes a good impression, then that helps.

Mark: It often comes down to service. A lot of them talk the talk, but don't deliver.