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10 tips for merchants to improve buying and selling skills for March for the Independents

Published:  04 February, 2015

As part of Harpers ongoing March for the Independents campaign Angela Mount, former head wine buyer for Somerfield and now retail and management consultant for the wine trade, offers her Top 10 tips on how she thinks independent wine merchants can improve their buying and selling skills.

As part of Harpers ongoing March for the Independents campaign Angela Mount, former head wine buyer for Somerfield and now retail and management consultant for the wine trade, offers her Top 10 tips on how she thinks independent wine merchants can improve their buying and selling skills. 


1 Be a customer expert 

 Many independent retailers set up because they are passionate about wine, about quirky, undiscovered producers- long may that continue.;The vision and passion should never be diminished, but too many still focus on what THEY want to sell, rather than what the customer wants to buy. It's a very fine line, but it's commercially crucial.  There is little room for indulgence in the current trading climate - innovation is vital, but it has to be right for the customer at this point in time.  

Be objective, not subjective - being passionate about a wine isn't enough any more.

2 Do market research- watch the competition

Too many businesses don't keep a close eye on their competition, especially  on the specialist chains, or supermarkets.  Some may even be selling the same products, at lower prices. it's worth investing time into this; in the current, cash-strapped market, wine consumers are promiscuous, and Independents need to offer value at every level, even premium, and watch what is going on . It's worrying how few do this.

Eagle-eyed trade buyers and retailers are the ones who will find the point of difference.

3 Find your USP - every single retailer, however small, can

Learn from the bigger players, including the supermarkets and specialist chains. It's no longer enough to have a good product at a decent price, in today's cash-poor and time-poor climate, there has to be a better reason to shop with an Independent retailer. Although it's a different trading environment, ignore the big boys at your peril.

They want your customers, as do the big online merchants.

4 Set the agenda, don't follow it

It's easy to fall into the trap of allowing a favoured supplier to take the pressure off the workload when their wines are good; whilst it's entirely right to build partnerships and trading relationships, it's easy to settle into a pattern where the supplier starts to call the shots. There are myriad exemplary independent retailers - sadly there are also many who are dictated to by their chosen suppliers, and do not take charge of the negotiation or ranging decisions, allowing the supplier to run the agenda of what they want to sell.

Be demanding of  account managers, especially if they are representing a large, multi-channel distributor. They should be aware of what is going on in the multiples and other sectors of the business - too many of them don't , either through lack of communication internally, or laziness.

Don't rely on your suppliers doing your own homework -  be one step ahead and know the market better than they do. It will give you the edge.

5 Build strong trading relationships

Keep suppliers competitive but supportive; work with suppliers who will be proactive in supporting marketing and customer initiatives. Be assertive , not aggressive, or arrogant.

Partnership will bring the best deals.

6 Negotiate

This sounds simple, but I've been shocked by the number of independent retailers and also restaurants, who simply trust the supplier, and accept pricing. It's all about building relationships - but it's also about having acute and detailed knowledge of the market and the pricing for every key product. 

Do this thoroughly and it will save thousands of pounds over a year, even for a small business.


7 Logistics and service

The fundamental part of the business is how to get the wine to the customer. Shop purchases are straightforward, but with fewer people coming into the shop, and more purchasing online, getting the end to end purchasing and delivery solution in place, in a commercially viable way is crucial. Couriers and daily single van deliveries may not be the profitable answer.

Talking to similar retail businesses within the area, who face the same challenges, and working together, may well be.

8 Define ranging strategy

View this as a major retailer range review on a minuscule level ; the principles should be no different. Whether you import direct, or purchase from wholesalers, build the range by style, by country, by price point in a structured way - breadth, not depth; there is still far too much duplication and lack of clarity on wine shelves across the country. Sometimes, less is more. Each bottle on the shelf needs to play a valuable role, and have a unique role within the range.

Simplify in order to help the customer.


9 Make the buying process easier

Most independents are brilliant at running tastings and local events. However, display, merchandising and written communication in store is not always as strong, although many do it superbly. Clear signage, easy range navigation,  tasting notes which are written for the average consumer, not the wine snob, clarity of messages, and a welcoming atmosphere - wine drinkers are scared to admit lack of knowledge and default to the supermarket and big brands. 

Give them a reason to come to you.

10 Communicate and engage with the community  locally and online

Online retailing is the fastest growing sector of our industry. Online is also where shoppers look for information and look at prices, it's the first point of reference. The world of Independent retailers seems currently split in two  - the best have engaging, approachable, attractive and informative websites, are active in the community, support local events, and are proactive on social media.

The others don't, and will miss out.

* One way to get your suppliers on your side and supporting your business is to get them to sign up to the Harpers Best Practice Guidelines, devised by independents and leading suppliers, that set out trading principles by which good suppliers to the independent sector should be following.

Check here to see which suppliers have signed up.

Then send the templated letter Harpers has prepared as part of its March for the Independents campaign to those suppliers that have not. 

* Keep on top of all the activities and initiatives as part of the March for the Independents campaign throughout February with four separate Action Weeks on different trading issues.