How do you order your stock?

Barrie Seymour: I use epos and a hand-held terminal from Londis. The system generally looks after everything and avoids gaps on shelves.

Mark Johnson: I have reps who come to see me in the store. I place orders with them and receive delivery the next day.

Nigel Dowdney: We have an epos system that we use for monitoring stock, but we’ve had a few problems with it recently, so we forecast orders manually judging by current stock levels and sales for the past month.

How often do you receive deliveries?

BS: I get deliveries four times a week on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. We're looking to add an extra Saturday delivery next year.

MJ: We have three deliveries a week and go to the cash & carry three or four times a week. My main cash & carry doesn't do a delivery service, which is annoying because it has a superior range.

ND: We have ambient goods delivered once a week, chilled six days a week and frozen a couple of days a week.

Is price the main consideration when choosing where to buy stock?

BS: Getting the best price is one thing, but you’ve got to weigh it up against all the additional services you may get from a symbol group. Also, visiting a cash & carry would be really time-consuming and I’d have to buy a van. In the past four weeks we’ve sold 88 cases of wine. Can you imagine carrying all that?

MJ: There is an element of loyalty to the cash & carry, but there has to be a good balance.

ND: Nisa is my main supplier. If I could buy something through Nisa I’d be willing to pay a little more as we have minimum case rates and it would go towards that. But there are limitations to what Nisa sells. For example, I buy loose frozen vegetables from Field-Fare, which Nisa doesn’t stock.

What do you do if a customer wants a product that you don't already sell in the store?

BS: We wait to be asked a minimum of five times before we decide to stock a new product, otherwise we'd end up with a case of stuff that wouldn't sell.

MJ: We have a very comprehensive range, so if someone wants something that they couldn't get from a multiple, such as Cristal Champagne or 10-year-old bourbon, we'll usually have it. If we don't, then we'll order it in for the next day.

ND: I was asked to get in some Cadbury dark chocolate fingers last week, so I'm on the hunt for those at the moment. I wouldn't buy a case-load of product if I thought I'd only sell one, but in this instance the customer says that if I can get hold of a case, then she'll buy the whole lot because her husband is addicted to them!

Do your suppliers keep you well informed about promotions?

BS: Londis keeps me very well informed about any promotions. Manufacturers tell our traders what's on offer and it's sent to us in a Checkpoint brochure.

MJ: Some suppliers keep us up to date, others don't. I tend to have meetings with brand managers to catch up with any new promotions that may be coming up, but a lot of information also comes from trade magazines.

ND: We hear about promotions via a weekly bulletin from Nisa, which is excellent, and the company's website is really useful.

How do you work with small suppliers to ensure things run smoothly?

BS: I use, which is a website where small firms deliver their products, but invoices are billed centrally.

MJ: Dealing with small suppliers isn’t really a problem for us. Some have minimum delivery criteria, but that doesn’t raise any major issues.

ND: I source a lot of local products and it can be difficult at first, but once companies have learnt the order level patterns it seems to work.

What could smaller firms learn from wholesalers and symbol groups?

BS: We have a good service from both local companies and our symbol group - it runs like clockwork.

MJ: The cash & carries could teach the smaller firms more about the basic tools for success - good service levels and a good product range.

ND: Smaller firms need to look at their method of supplying retailers. They could cut the cost of transport by working together.

How is the credit crunch affecting your relationship with suppliers?

BS: Everybody's seeing a slight downturn, but the media is playing it up. I still maintain a good relationship with my suppliers. A lot of people want to sit and worry about it all, but I just want to get on with things.

MJ: The credit crunch hasn't affected my supplier relationships. They're still able to give me credit if needs be, but I don't really tend to build up much of a tab with them.

ND: I've seen a huge number of price increases, but my relationship with suppliers is still solid.

Where could improvements be made to help everyone in the supply chain?

BS: I think Londis already does a good job. When its vans go on deliveries they pick up product from manufacturers on the way back to the regional distribution centre, so they never have empty wagons.

MJ: At the moment we independents are getting slaughtered in terms of the prices multiples are offering. Buying from cash & carries means products have to sell at £3-£4 more than multiples. We can't match them in price and it's frustrating - we need to work together more.

ND: There needs to be a way to accommodate deliveries to smaller stores. Many husband and wife-run stores don't have time to go to the cash & carry.

What plans do you have to enhance your supply chain?

BS: Starting next May, Londis' 'Flow through' system will enable products to be supplied direct from manufacturers to the regional distribution centres, so products will get to us fresher.

MJ: We have an epos system already, but we're looking to purchase a new operating system that provides a suggested order. That should get rid of a lot of dead wood.

ND: I'm trying to find a way of locating a hub where larger distributors can drop off their goods and from there they could be delivered to smaller stores. We have to get this up and running soon if we want to hang on to our village stores.