Secrets of a salesman

    ELIT ROWLAND spent a day with Palmer and Harvey Snacksdirect to see how its ‘top dog’ is driving great service and sales




    Lorraine the butcher

    Simon the retailer

    With Yvonne Sanderson

    Unlike your average delivered wholesaler, P&H Direct van sales representatives are armed with market knowledge, category expertise and sharp negotiation skills that every wholesaler could learn from. Better Wholesaling spent a day in a van with Mike Wilmore, the group’s longest-serving sales representative, to see what’s made him a hit with customers for over 40 years.

    Telesales is a key main route to customers for most delivered wholesalers, but for the Direct branch of the Palmer and Harvey business, nothing beats being in front of the customers. “People buy off people and if a customer likes you, they will listen and take your advice,” says Paul Thompson, area manager of the Leeds depot. And the sales reps have plenty of good advice to give. “Our reps are knowledgeable – not only do they know about the market, they can offer category advice, information on new products and even a heads-up on products that are changing.”

    And it didn’t take long on our road trip with Mike Wilmore to see the benefits this knowledge can bring to customer visits. One of our first stops was Debbie Derrik, catering manager at Benton Park School where Wilmore instantly added 2 extra cases to the customer’s shopping list. “Debbie often forgets what she’s ordered from us, especially if it’s sold out, so we keep a ‘record card’ to jog customers’ memory, and our own!” says Wilmore.

    And if a supplier is changing their products, that brings another opportunity to drive sales. “When I told Debbie that 2-pack Digestives and Hob Nobs were changing she ending up buying four extra cases.”
    But serving schools can be a bumpy ride as Wilmore loses up to 40,000 children as customers over the school holidays. The move towards healthier options has also changed purchasing habits with the education sector. “We used to sell 40-50 cases of crisps a week in some school tuck shops, but now everyone’s asking for cereal bars, low fat crisps and mini-packs of biscuits.”

    Luckily for Wilmore, his customer-base is varied and ranges from retailers, newsagents and pubs to butchers, leisure centres and vendors – and his ability to sell to even the most price-conscious customers is impressive.
    A particularly memorable visit was Rawdon Convenience Stores which is benefiting from new, financially-savvy management and the price-conscious nature of Mr Preet, store manager, puts Wilmore’s powers of negotiation to the test.

    After requesting that we run two separate promotions on his order, to see which delivers the greater saving, Mr Preet presents us with an estimate of what the order would cost at a rival cash & carry. “These boys know what they’re doing,” Wilmore tells me and although the cash & carry quote was marginally lower, the boys still conducted their business with Wilmore.

    “What we offer is so much more than just price, bearing in mind that the cash & carry price doesn’t take into consideration the cost of petrol and time out of the shop” explains Wilmore.

    Another initiative that’s proved popular with customers is mixing up cases. “About 15% of our customers ask us to do this and it’s helping to bring in a lot of sales”, says Wilmore, particularly with smaller customers, as it enables them to stock a full range when storage is an issue.

    Ultimately, customers love a good promotion and many of Wilmore’s customers have stocked up when a good deal is on. Yvonne Sanderson of West Yorkshire Vending Solutions told us that she bought up to five times her usual order of Mini Cheddars when they were on promotion. “The challenge is finding somewhere to stock it all,” she explained.

    And it’s not just customers that get excited about promotions, Wilmore loves being the one to deliver the good news. “It’s great to come to customers with something different every two weeks and we know that the advice we give them works. We are keen to help customers increase the cash they generate and we help them do this by setting up in-store promotions for their shoppers. I enjoy showing my customers how they can offer better value than their larger, local rivals.”

    After spending 41 years on the job, Wilmore plans to retire later on in the year and, according to manager Paul Thompson, will be difficult to replace. “Everyone on the team tries to be as good as Mike. They’re always trying to beat the top dog.”


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