The better way to buy

    How to negotiate

    Playing a straight bat versus tactics

    There are different schools of thought when it comes to buying and it’s important to consider what your path will be – will you play a straight bat or be more tactical?

    “I’ve heard horror stories about wholesalers making their suppliers wait for an hour in reception to ‘show them who’s boss’, but that’s old school,” says JW Filshill’s Stuart Harrison. “There’s a new generation coming through and they don’t work that way. If you waste an hour of a supplier’s time, they’re hardly going to do you a good deal.”

    He adds: “Don’t let your ego get in the way.”

    Bev Loughran is the newly-appointed trading controller at Today’s Group and has responsibility for negotiating deals with key suppliers on behalf of more than 160 wholesale members. “In my position, you need to be firm but fair,” she says. 

    Loughran previously worked with Sainsbury’s and Costcutter and says that while corporate training was useful, you need to find a path that works for you personally. “Sainsbury’s sent me on negotiation courses but what I learnt was only part of the picture.”

    Her advice to others is to be honest and well-prepared. “Know your bottom line and aim high. Ideally, you’ll end up somewhere that’s mutually beneficial for you, the supplier and the customers you serve.”   

    For Chris Roberts, buying director for delivered wholesaler and Today’s Group member SERT-mst, picking up a few ‘soft’ tactics has been a huge help. “I went on a negotiation course about 10 years ago and it was one of the best things I ever did,” he says.

    One key lesson was not to keep asking for a better price. “If you do, a supplier will alter their price, knowing that you are going to chip them down,” he says. “If a price works, just take it.” Another useful tip Roberts picked up is about what to say to get a positive response from buyers. “Never say ‘Can you do it for £1?’ – I’d say ‘If you can reduce it to £1 then I will take x amount of cases.”

    Feedback is always important: it helps suppliers to come back with an offer that’s better for you. “Never just say no – if a supplier comes to you with a product and it’s not right, tell them why. They could come back with a more relevant proposition in the future.”

    For JJ’s Ali Guvemli, good purchasing goes beyond looking at just price. “Sometimes, I don’t even ask for a price reduction. I expect my suppliers to be honest with me,” he says. “But a time will come when you’ll need them to help you out. That’s when you really find out who is going to be a good, long-term business partner,” he adds.


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