Talking Retail May 2008

You may recall in my last piece the difficulty I had been experiencing getting access to the senior management at Sainsbury’s which I felt was at odds with their claim to be supportive of small producers.  Well to my surprise and pleasure I got a reply to my letter from the main man himself, Justin King.  I had expected a well-crafted corporate response, which would have made any top lawyer proud but leave me still smarting.  On the contrary, the response was an invitation for dialogue with Mike Coupe one of the senior trading directors.

This was the first time in the three years that I have been trading with Sainsbury’s that I had an opportunity to meet one of their senior people.  My feeling has been that access to these people is reserved for corporate executives from the giant food suppliers.  I wanted to make the most of this opportunity so preparation was key.  What sort of person is he?  Am I setting myself up for a corporate kicking?

Mindful of the high wire act that I tread I asked around.  “Don’t piss him off because he is a nice guy who plays with a straight bat” came the response from people who have had dealings with him.  Well I am happy to report it was a good meeting and hopefully I didn’t piss him off.  I felt that I was listened to (and that I will get an invitation to the next suppliers conference!).  In the rough and tumble of doing business sometimes not enough time is spent in getting to know suppliers, for when you get to know them only then do you see what drives them.

I think that some of the ideas I put forward may well be put into the mix on how to develop better relationships with small suppliers.  I felt he had a good understanding that many small suppliers are more passionate about what they do because it is their livelihood.

To grow and develop as a small supplier you need a champion at senior level, someone who can offer a different perspective and the long view to their junior colleagues on the front line.  Some of the recent brand success stories like Gü or Innocent were small suppliers once and by getting the support and backing of Sainsbury’s have managed to grow into big brands.  Those are great case studies and an inspiration to the rest of us, but access is key.  Mike Coupe tells me he is open and available to discuss all ideas with small suppliers and to give him credit he does appear to be the sort of person who would do that.

Well I left the meeting feeling better than I had when I went in only to discover that because of someone’s inconsiderate parking, I, and a number of other drivers, could not get out of the car park.  Three hours waiting and frustrated by NCP staff’s inability to do anything about it (their insurance wouldn’t cover moving the offending car was their excuse) that by the time the person returned I was spitting blood.

It turned out that the car belonged to a managing director of a well-known company in that area.  You couldn’t have met a nicer person – he and Mike Coupe were caste in the same mould.  The gentleman was very apologetic and it transpired someone else had parked it on his behalf.  The consequence of my three hour wait, missed appointments and 10 years off my life thanks to  the stress I must have put on my heart, is a substantial sponsor for my The Black Farmer® rural scholarship scheme!  Funny how things turn out…

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~ by theblackfarmer on January 18, 2010.

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