Angela Mount's first hand experiences of multiple and supplier relations
Former Somerfield buyer Angela Mount, has first-hand experience on being a wine buyer in a difficult climate. She gives her view on what happens behind closed doors at supermarkets when they come under fire.
“It’s very easy for beleaguered suppliers to blame retailers and individual buyers. I was called every name under the sun when I was at Somerfield. They’re doing their job. It’s no easier for them than for the suppliers having their margins cut from under them.
”I was still at Somerfield when there was a profits warning. Buyers have their fingers burnt down to the bone tapping on their calculators. You’re just glued to your desk redoing forecasts, over and over again, working out how you’re going to claw the deficit back. If the numbers are short, the message that comes from above is, ‘we need to bring in more’.
”The pressure on buyers is enormous at any company facing a difficult year-end, and each buyer is tasked with bringing in a certain extra amount each week. It was one of the many factors that finally made me decide to leave Somerfield. The message was ‘get the brands listed who are going to pay us money’.
”The window to recoup the sales/revenue to hit budget was too short to implement even radical promotional strategies, and the pressure was on to recruit marketing monies. I felt my integrity as a buyer was being compromised. You had to say, ‘I know we did that deal but I now need another £15,000 from you’.
”I couldn’t see how I could go from building a constructive relationship with suppliers to stripping it right back and going only for wines where you could bring in marketing and advertising funds, especially in the short term. We had daily updates and were each targeted with a fixed amount to bring in each day.
“Being very blunt about it, and since Somerfield no longer exists, and I can speak openly, we were asked to bring money forward from the next financial year and were told if you have to delist and bring in products that you will get more cash on, then do it. I must stress that these comments relate only to my experience at Somerfield seven years ago, when the company was in dire straits, and has no relevance to the issues facing supermarket buyers today.
“As someone who had taken on products and built up the range and credibility over 12 years the strategy of tearing it all down to build a less diverse and engaging range around cash margin was not the way I wanted to go. I think that I was thought of as tough but fair. I felt in the latter days that I may as well have been buying digestive biscuits or baked beans. It went to commodity buying.
“Regulation: I can only comment from a wine perspective – it must be very different for butchers, meat producers and the dairy sector. I’m fed up with suppliers whingeing about buyers’ demands. If you don’t want to trade in that market then don’t. If you do, then be grown up and get on with it.
“My concern is around junior buyers who have neither the experience, knowledge or gravitas to build relationships. They’re just driving a price negotiation; fortunately the buying structure in the majority of the major retailers, between commercial buyers and product group managers, and team discussions, will usually ensure that reasonable decisions are made, but in times of stress, then the onus is on the commercial team to bring in the extra revenue – and very quickly.
” I’m all for tough negotiations, but that’s where there is a weakness. There are some superb supermarket buyers in the industry, who, through their wealth of experience, get the whole picture, and understand the wider ramifications of relationship building and range management plans, whilst adhering to their own business targets and constraints. But there are several who don’t’.
A little bit of knowledge, intuition and understanding is priceless. Many get it, some don’t.”
Read more on our Special Report: Multiples and supplier relations uncovered