Buyer’s Diary

== monday ==

The boss has told us not to be too pessimistic about the recession.

He says we mustn’t be distracted from our course and should focus on the needs of the Features > Business, and therefore our customers. He says we cannot shape the economy or the market in which we trade, only respond to the challenges and reshape ourselves into it. He’s right, and the sooner we do, the better.

I am aggrieved, however, by the continual negativity of the media, particularly radio, TV and the national press. They appear to gloat on failure, forever predicting disaster – then, when we hit rock bottom, pop out to the tool shed to find a sledge hammer so see how much deeper they can sink us. The negative impact on the nations’ shopping behaviour is becoming all too evident.

A small local retailer has told me that his Christmas was a washout. This is a well run independent family business with traditional values, supporting local producers and maintaining strong community links. A recipe for success one might say, but his customers are reluctant to spend – many embarrassed by their inability to support him. He says that if the store can hold on to Easter then he should be OK. We’ll work just as hard as we can with him and for every other customer too.

Looking at the FTSE 100 after the past couple of weeks, confidence is returning – so come on you media guys, give us all a healthy boost.

== tuesday ==

While cash and carry has never developed a January Sale culture, most customers think we should be joining in the fun.

That was clearly evident before Christmas and many of our retailers and caterers invaded Woolies for discounted stock, so we can expect a slowdown in confectionery, batteries, and stationery over the next few weeks. Our sale or return agreements with suppliers were never more welcome.

When is an extraordinary offer not an offer? Ask Tesco.

Telegraph columnist Vicki Woods writes that a friend was so impressed with the quality of Heidsieck Monopole Champagne (on offer at Tesco for pound;11.99 a bottle) he went back for more, only to find the shelf was bare.

The ink on my morning newspaper was barely dry when I made a rapid response to their Freixinet Cordon Negro offer advertised at just pound;3 a bottle. You guessed it. The shelves were bare. My 14-mile round trip proved a waste of time and money – and there wasn’t even the usual apology card on shelf. Is this a new traffic building ploy?

So, options for smokers are now quite clear – buy your cigarettes and tobacco from below the counter at a respectable independent retailer, or via the smuggler, on every street corner, no questions asked, no tax or VAT.

Thanks, HMG – but who on earth were you listening to when you approved the absurd display decision? Look, we understand the strong health reasons for reducing smoking and to halt the sale of cigarettes to underage smokers. You will not achieve it this way.

== wednesday ==

There was plenty on the agenda for today’s buyers meeting. We anxiously await the results of our Year End stock take.

There is concern about increased pilferage and unreported damage and their impact on margins. Increased promotional activity and take-up, particularly from retail club members, together with a fall in catering and non-food sales, could bring surprises although the buyers are convinced we have taken full advantage of suppliers’ promotional investment.

We are busy studying latest supplier purchase figures. Where possible we need to restructure our short-term purchasing patterns to maximise overrider income, without mortgaging next years’ business but the rapidly changing market will make this task more difficult.

A sad reflection. My annual New Year resolution to operate a more effective appointments diary has once again been broken within days of making it. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to tackle and solve all the problems and issues in this frenetic environment.

== thursday ==

It’s standing room only in reception. The reps are back in town.

Their brief cases are loaded with new deals, multiple price-matching offers and amazing unconditional advertising allowances.

Maybe not, but our relationship with suppliers is going to be very different throughout 2009. In the current environment we have to be more cautious.

We love to see new products in the depot but are the risks of failure too high and will manufacturers be cutting back to support their major lines?

I have had a soft spot for JD Wetherspoon since its earliest days although the opportunity to frequent any of its pubs rarely comes my way. Maintaining competitive pricing on beer and food was always part of the Wetherspoon proposition – so why all the excitement about 99p a pint and the inevitable interference from the health lobby just because this business is determined to survive the horrible mess the pub business is in since the smoking ban was introduced.

Isn’t it Wetherspoon policy to buy short-dated beer at lower prices anyway? There must be a lot of it around – so good luck to them.

With about five pubs closing every day over the past year and hundreds more fighting for survival, we should all be applauding its efforts.

== friday ==

Asda’s pound;1 range featuring a thousand everyday products is heralded as the first salvo of a new year price war between the supermarkets.

Within days we’ll start to feel the heat from Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons actions but who is stumping up the money for all these price cuts? The discounters, I am sure, have the weapons within their armouries to respond although their failure to shift a lot of big value ‘when it’s gone it’s gone’ merchandise over Christmas suggests they, too, were caught out by sales fever in the high street.

There is no way local stores can respond to these price wars or gain anything by joining them. What they can do through participation is enjoy the loyalty and traffic building benefits inherent in the MSYS campaign. As we plan our St Valentine’s Day, Pancake Day, Mothers Day and Easter activities it is easy to get the feeling we are living on another planet.

It is a question I almost dare not ask. Against the background of supermarket price wars, major high street names on the edge of collapse, substantial food companies looking for cash injections to shore up debts, the massive growth in internet selling, what is the long future for the wholesale food and drinks sector? I’ve booked my place for the FWD Annual Conference in April to hear the answer.

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