<b>Q: </b> I produce a non-food product and to date have supplied independent shops. I have secured meetings with trade buyers from larger groups which is a new experience for me and I am looking for some advice.
A: This is a big move and you should not underestimate the change in pace. Independent retailers are typically owned by an individual and sometimes that relationship between the supplier and retailer can be informal and in some instances relationship based.
A buyer working for a larger group spends their working week meeting suppliers forming opinions of how these products will benefit the business. As buyers meet hundreds of suppliers every month, they very quickly can identify suppliers who can benefit their business. Do lots of research and planning. Talk to suppliers who are supplying that particular retailer and see what information can be gained. Visit as many of their shops as you can and read any information online about the retailers' business before your buyer meeting.
Don't assume the buyer is just going to be interested in your product and put it on the shelf. Most buyers are paid according to the performance of the category so what they will be interested in more is the effect that your product is going to have on the category performance. If your product is going to take sales from an existing product, there is no future. But if your product can attract new customers to the category and indeed to the buyers' shops, then that is a great proposition. It will also be important to show a deep understanding of the needs of the consumer for that particular retailer.
Finally, you need to come across as organised so think about your presentation skills, the most appropriate dress code and whether you need to bring along samples or do a demo for the buyer. Succeeding at meetings like this is all about preparation.
Q: I run a small business within the first three years of its life and sales growth is strong. I feel isolated and would love ways to challenge the business.
A: Isolation is one of the real hazards of running your own business. It appears that you are doing lots of good work and your customer base is recognising this. The danger is that over time, due to lack of contact with others, the business slowly loses its competitive edge. One simple idea I have seen is that you put a voluntary advisory board into place. This group might consist of four people.
You would start by identifying the skillset areas in the business which you are not strong at. Identify some successful people in these areas and ask them would they be willing to commit on a voluntary basis to meet with you four times per year as a group. Most established business people would be happy to give something back for free. Structure these meetings well and send the participants an agenda and a business update a number of weeks ahead of time so they can focus on your business. It would be also great if you had a relationship with them that you could phone them occasionally for advice.
Do you have problems with your small business? Email Feargal at firstname.lastname@example.org