Screwfix operates under the tag line “where trade buys”. With a large product selection and a diverse customer base of tradespeople, it is an ideal retailer for small suppliers to try and target.
To give ambitious founders the advice needed to succeed in selling to Screwfix, we interviewed the owner of one supplier to find out exactly what it takes.
Making sure your product is ready
As previously covered in our selling to big business series, ensuring the future value of your product is an essential starting point when approaching big retailers – how do you prove that your business is worth the investment?
Steven Daniels is the owner of Frome-based homeware supplier Just Right Products, the UK distributor of The What Knot. The What Knot is a small device that ties ropes together, omitting the need for any knot-tying skills.
For Daniels, it was about diversifying the product range from the start – selling different variations of The What Knot to demonstrate how universal it was.
“You need to think about it from the customer’s point of view and make the product as easy to buy as possible,” he said.
How do you successfully reach out to Screwfix?
“Screwfix has a particularly large volume of buyers – but every buyer is so busy. I connected with as many as I could on LinkedIn, from directors to store managers. You can work from the top down, but working from the bottom up is also effective.”
“Email and phone are two avenues, but networking is also huge. I attended a Screwfix sponsored Chamber of Commerce event that was attended by employees, and the Federation of Small Businesses networking group was also helpful.”
When looking to reach out to any big company – not just in selling to Screwfix – getting noticed is crucial. Buyers will have small suppliers knocking every day, and competition for attention is strong.
So how can you ensure that your product stands out from others? For Daniels, it was as simple as the presentation of the product.
“You need great packaging that stands out in colour, shape and simplicity. Ours is bright orange, with good imagery to go alongside it. It’s about having packaging that adds value to the product.
Daniels made his successful in-road by sending in samples to Screwfix’s head office, which were in turn well-received and led to an invite to take discussions further.
The director of sales was the person I eventually got a response from – not somebody from the buying team.
When I went into the meeting, they said they passed the samples round and that the feedback was positive. I met the head buyer and the director of sales at the meeting.”
Selling to Screwfix has been made easier through new “meet the buyer days” that the retailer has begun to organise. Small business owners are encouraged to attend, with the guarantee that they can spend a short period of time with the most suitable buyer for what their business supplies.
According to Daniels, they are your “in”.
The negotiating table
“I read and re-read the contract before signing anything. There were things in there that could have put me out of business.”
Specifically, a condition that required Daniels to provide stock to Screwfix based on whatever levels it wished to order – a deal that he noted “nobody in the world could agree to”.
Crucially for any small supplier, a breach of contract can be spell the end for a business.
“It’s making sure you protect yourself,” Daniels said.
“In the end I added several pages to it,” he added. “Dictating that I would supply based on a forecast of sales. It’s important to be provided with a forecast of sales that you know you have to meet with stock.”
“We guarantee we will supply your forecast, and will do our utmost to supply anything over and above that. We’ve met all of our orders so far,” Daniels said, concluding that the whole experience has been a very positive one so far.
A culture of small suppliers
In April of this year, Screwfix CEO Andrew Livingston told Retail Week that the involvement of new suppliers with exciting products was an important aspect of a company’s growth. Livingston said that “for a retailer seeking true differentiation, the critical path is to ensure a constant stream of new products to the market”.
In 2015, Screwfix launched a “Tradesman Manifesto” in collaboration with the then Department for Business Innovation and Skills (now called the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy). The initiative allowed local business owners to receive information in-store on how to recruit apprentices with advice on how to access government funding.
In October 2015, the company began using the PROACTIS Supplier Network to handle its invoicing. The service enables Screwfix to “efficiently involve suppliers” through electronic invoice methods. Crucially for smaller companies, the platform provides an Accelerated Payment Facility that allows suppliers to access payment early.
Screwfix was also the winner of the Supply Chain Team of the Year award at the 2015 Retail Week Supply Chain Awards.
As Daniels put it: “You’ve just got to persevere. ‘No, no’ is actually ‘not now’ – that’s the best way I can put it. All they mean is not now.”
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