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With the exception of bananas and citrus, grown-in-Ontario apples, potatoes and greenhouse vegetables are front and center in this Shoppers Drug Mart display.
With the exception of bananas and citrus, grown-in-Ontario apples, potatoes and greenhouse vegetables are front and center in this Shoppers Drug Mart display.
March 29, 2022

There are so many challenges to producing great products that we can lose enthusiasm for the mindset needed to sell. With increasing costs, challenges to find labour, weather and sometimes demanding customers, it is difficult to maintain the right approach to the sales process.

 

One thing to remember is your customers are going through many of the same challenges you are in your business. Their costs are increasing and they find it difficult to get people as well. This is not an excuse for being difficult to work with, but they do face similar challenges.

 

Focus on where the market is today, not where it was

 

A lot has changed. To succeed in 2022 you need to focus on where consumers and customers are today and where they are going. Some of the priorities have changed. 

 

Relationships with retailers are more important now than ever. Retailers are being forced to do more with less and when you have good relationships, they will trust you to do your part. Developing new relationships is more challenging right now. Most of the interaction is virtual and that can be more difficult when you do not know the person. Do your best to keep your customers informed as to what you see out in the market. People are not moving around as much as they used to so any information can be a help to them.

 

Service level is a big challenge across many categories. Logistics and availability of labour are really causing many interruptions. Service level is defined as the cases you deliver (on time, in full, with the right labels and the right packaging) divided by the number of cases ordered by the retailer. Retailers are very focused on this issue and they will appreciate your efforts to get product to them. Let them know what you are doing to overcome the problems. It is their nature to focus on the problems and not notice the suppliers who are meeting or exceeding targets. Monthly service level updates are a good practice to keep them informed. Do not wait for the problems.

 

There is more focus on food than ever before. Consumers and customers want to understand more about where food is coming from. The empty shelves during the pandemic forced consumers to question our food supply and many want to know more. There is such a great opportunity to tell your story right now. You will have to tell it over and over. You will be tired of it far earlier than consumers and customers. 

 

Consider the other side of the desk

 

Believe it or not, when I worked at Loblaw, I did try to understand some of the challenges facing suppliers. I believed I could do my job better when I had a better sense of what producers were facing. I would encourage you to do the same when you approach selling in 2022.

 

The first consideration is the cost increases everyone in the industry is trying to manage. Retailers have almost every supplier coming at them looking for an increase. Many are justified, given the increases to inputs, labour and logistics. Just remember when you talk to them about this issue you are not the first and will not be the last.

 

Focus on your own business and try to be as realistic as possible. They do not want to hear “everything is going up, I don’t know how we can stay in business.” They do need to hear “we are experiencing increases in the following areas and the impact on our price will be XX%.” Stick to the facts and avoid the “everything is terrible” strategy. They will be much more likely to work with you when you are realistic and do not waste their time with generalities and negative thoughts. It is a long day for them when every supplier tells them how bad it is. It is a breath of fresh air for them when suppliers come in and share what they are working on to minimize the impact of increases or even negotiate with their suppliers to reduce the increase.

 

Category managers have more pressure than ever to deliver results. The competition in retail remains intense. With inflated sales during the pandemic they will likely be working in an environment of sales decreases in retail. As food service comes back, food dollars will shift again. Working in an environment of sales decreases is difficult. They will want to maintain the sales they have achieved, even if it is not realistic!

 

Trucks are in shorter supply and produce depends so much on this industry. With short shelf-life products, we need to move them quickly and properly. This costs more and more. Retailers are struggling with this like everyone else. Many do have their own trucks to deliver to stores but they rely on many carriers for inbound freight. Short and late orders cause them a lot of challenges. Similar to the cost increases, it is a long day for them when orders are not arriving when they had planned.

 

These are not meant to be excuses for retailers. They are some issues to be aware of and if you can help them in any way on these issues your efforts will be appreciated.

 

The right mindset

 

Find a balance between the opportunities, positives, cost increases and challenges. People have to eat, so we know there is demand for our products. More demand than ever for many that are produced close to home. Bring a balanced position to your customers. You do need to get the increase to generate the return required so you have to address it. Discussion about opportunities and increases is more effective than just the increases and the negatives. 

 

Before you meet with customers, find a solution that is right for you that takes you away from the day-to-day challenges. Some people might want to go for a walk, others might accept the call from your home office. I prefer going for a walk in a grocery store to get my mind focused on that environment. Find your own solution with the goal being to have the right mindset for the conversation.

 

The approach you bring to your customers can have a significant impact on the relationship you develop. These relationships are so important to the results you can achieve. 

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Submitted by Peter Chapman on 29 March 2022