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Indies must set the agenda with suppliers to be better buyers hears Harpers conference

Published:  06 March, 2015

It does not matter how good you are at tasting wine, if there is one skill every independent merchant must master it is the power to get the most out of the suppliers you choose to supply your wine.

March for the independentsMarch for the independentsDavid Sable speaks to a crowd of independents about how they can get the most out of their suppliers.

It does not matter how good you are at tasting wine, if there is one skill every independent merchant must master it is the power to get the most out of the suppliers you choose to supply your wine.

David Sables, chief executive of Sentinel Management Consultants, a seasoned veteran in retail negotiations between major supplier and supermarkets; Angela Mount,  wine industry consultant and former head of wine buying at Somerfield; Tim North, UK director of Les Grand Chais de France and Guillaume Bonnefoi, UK manager for Castel, all shared tips on how merchants could maximise their partnerships with suppliers and improve their buying skills at this week's March for the Independents conference organised by Harpers.

Sables was quite clear. The independent channel can't compete on volume or price like the large retailers. Instead an independent retailer, when negotiating with their suppliers, needs to show them the value the independent channel offers.

He suggested a different approach. "You should become the sales person for your channel to the supplier. Look for something that you can do for a supplier that they can't get from other channels that may be kicking them around. Look for something that makes this channel famous for them. That makes it indispensable." He added: "Effectively you are selling them on the stuff that you can do for them."

The key, he argued, was to be "adaptable" and "creative" when in a negotiation and to build a "commercial arguement" that is not just based on value and volume.

"There has never been a better opportunity for independents," said Mount. "You have become very important people to suppliers."

But that does not necessarily mean you will automatically get the best price for their wine, she stressed: "The best buyers understand their customers and the competition."

To get the most out of suppliers, merchants much first know their customers' real needs, know their competition and develop sales and profit targets for the business, explained Mount. Armed with this information independents will be able to "set the agenda" when talking to their suppliers and make sure they are "in control of the conversation" when negotiating.

"Being passionate about wine is no longer enough," she added.  "Remember to buy what your customers want not what your supplier is trying to sell you and do your homework. It is up to you to know more than your suppliers when having a meeting. You have to  know exactly what it is you hope to get out of that meeting," she added.

Merchants must take control

Mount urged merchants to be more professional about their wine ranges. "Your range is your brand," she said. "You need to be more focused on category management. Every wine you have should have its own job description, the reasons why it is on your shelf. If it does not work, then take it out."

The two French producers on the panel agreed that it was up to independent merchants to be clear about what their goals are for their business and the types of products they need in their shop.  "A commercial relationship has to work for both people. But unless we understand your goals, how can we work together? Be open, be honest and take the time to know your own needs," said North.

Bonnefoi agreed: "No-one knows your business and your customers better than you. Please share that information with us so that we can find the right wines for you."

Both North and Bonnefoi said if you aren't getting what you need from suppliers it may be time to get rid of them.

Boonefoi added:  "We want to give you more power, more support and put your customers at the centre of what we do. We are here for the long term and we are on the same journey with you."