Two recent events have made me think again about just how differently the values of relationships are regarded in the multiple and independent sectors.
Firstly there was a frank and incisive view of why supplier contact with independent retailers matters from highly regarded Edinburgh retailer Linda Williams in Convenience Store magazine.
Linda explained that there are varied views among retailers about supplier contact, but clearly demonstrated how she and Dennis make it work for them. Her penultimate sentence was: “It is very evident that in our store … rep visits make a measurable difference to sales.”
“There is more to the discussion than just agreeing to buyer terms”
I have long argued that similar principles apply in wholesale. It is a more complicated route to market than having one meeting with a multiple buyer, but it is one where people and relationships make a real difference. At the early stages of a sales career, experience and learning from calling on a progressive wholesaler can be invaluable - I am proud of the number of senior people in our trade who learnt the ropes in Parfetts depots and still talk about it now. A truly strong and collaborative relationship in wholesale can genuinely double or treble sales volumes, while a poorly represented supplier can see the opposite.
However good the qualities of an account handler in the multiples, the opportunity to make such a difference is much smaller given the nature of the trading relationship - my understanding is that it is a fierce and highly transactional environment. Don’t get me wrong, wholesalers are consummate negotiators, but in most cases there is more to the discussion than just agreeing to the buyer’s formula.
Relationships in the multiple sector are also affected by the short-lived nature of the responsibilities of both buyer and seller, with rapid moves in category, career path and seniority. Some of my closest relationships (now friendships) go back more than 30 years.
My second reminder of this difference in approach was the Landmark Wholesale Supplier conference in San Francisco. It can be difficult to explain to suppliers new to wholesale why this is worth attending, but very few who do attend go away without having achieved value. Suppliers who would have to spend weeks and travel thousands of miles to see principals of wholesale businesses can interact productively and cost-effectively over six days and achieve lasting benefit for both.
Many believe the quality of relationships are what define life, and in wholesale we subscribe to this theory.
Steve Parfett is chairman of AG Parfett & Sons