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Paul Hargreaves is the chief executive of Cotswold Fayre a specialist fine food wholesaler.

“Seeing the bigger picture”

I was in London over the weekend and as I last visited the Tower of London when I was 10, I thought we should pay it another visit. To stand in the same space as William the Conqueror nearly 1,000 years ago is amazing, when you step back and think. And to think all the people who throughout our history who have been within those buildings is absolutely amazing, from Henry VIII to the Duke of Wellington and many, many more – some of them lived to tell the tale! Thinking of such a long period of time, it does make me think how small I am in comparison

“Endings”

It’s been a couple of weeks of endings for several businesses. At Cotswold Fayre, two of our new suppliers for 2017 have stopped trading less than a year after we started with them. Thor Drinks has done it properly and gone into administration but the other, Little Turban, has disappeared off the face of the planet, leaving orders unfulfilled and customers disappointed. They leave behind a still live Twitter account and a consumer website, still taking customer’s money – I know because I placed an order as a last resort to see if anything would happen. It didn’t!

“The art of selling”

Following on from last week’s thoughts, I have been wondering whether digital technology has reduced the need of those within SMEs to be able to sell. The thought stream sometimes seems to be that if you put yourself out on social media enough then business will flow in. Is this true or false?

“Do face-to-face relationships matter any longer?”

As I write this week’s thoughts I am simultaneously preparing for the Cotswold Fayre New Supplier’s Conference tomorrow. This annual event is when we spend a day with our January launch suppliers and allow them to get to know us, our company and culture. We also ensure all the ducks are lined up for successful launch in 2018. Yes, we could do the event as a webinar or maybe send them a VT or put something on YouTube. But nothing can beat looking into each other’s eyes, hearing each other’s voices and understanding each other. I am sure many of you have spent hours gazing into the eyes of the one you love – certainly in the early stages of the relationship, at least. Through the eyes we communicate sometimes far more than words! And through heart-to-heart relationships things are achieved and built

“Do speciality producers really support independent retailers?”

I had to pretend to be a chef for the evening last Friday Night. Last June, rashly I had offered into an Auction of Promises for a fund-raising event for our orphanage in Kenya a “Restaurant Quality Meal for 6 Cooked at your Home”. The bidding had gone up to £150, so the pressure was on to come up with something good, so in an attempt to be hyper-organised I had started preparation on Thursday evening for the event on Friday

“The growth of crowdfunding for food and drink start-ups”

Many of us now have several e-mails a month from the latest food and drink start-up to try and raise funds through crowdfunding, but how many of us have invested? This week I thought I would explore the area a little further and try and answer the question of whether it is a good idea to invest our hard-earned cash into crowdfunding food and drink start-ups

“Does the speciality food sector care about the environment?”

Coming into work this morning, the headline news was that old vehicles were now going to have to pay an extra £10 to drive in the London Congestion Zone. On the channel I was listening to there was at least one spokesperson complaining that businesses would be hit by this. Considering this is only going to affect vehicles registered in 2006 or before, I wonder how many businesses are running vehicles this old – if so, I would question how well those businesses are doing anyway! This followed a snippet of TV I saw last night where Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was in Denmark on a programme called Scandimania. One island he visited in Denmark was completely carbon neutral. They were generating all of their own electricity, driving electric cars and all their food production was carbon neutral, too

“Who’s afraid of Amazon?”

I had a phone call earlier today from a journalist wanting my comments on Amazon, as apparently FMCG wholesalers across the pond are having sleepless nights about what they are doing in the market

“A reality check”

I was encouraged to see so many start-up food businesses represented at the Bread & Jam Festival last week. My Last Word article in this month’s Speciality Food Magazine reflects more on the sheer numbers coming into the industry at present

“A proliferation of start-ups!”

I am not sure what the collective noun is for start-ups, but proliferation will do for now. When I started our Young Entrepreneur of the Year Competition six years ago, there were hardly any young people starting businesses. The sector was full of middle-aged people (like myself!) many of whom had bumbled along with lifestyle businesses for many years without experiencing much growth. This has all changed now, and there are so many ambitious millennials coming into the food and drink sector. They are ambitious, and have a desire to succeed. They will not be happy with a business eking out a turnover of £250k each year – they want a business of several £M turnover and want to sell up and do something else within a few years. As far as our competition is concerned, my job is done, my aim of seeing more young people in the sector has been achieved so we are finishing at this point and will come up with new ideas for next year

“Inflation – good or bad news?”

Generally, the improvement in the strength of sterling was viewed with some relief in my office, but only for fairly selfish reasons. The vast majority of our range is British or Irish, but at Christmas we import more product from Italy, Spain, Germany and other European countries. Last year we were, of course, badly stung by the drop in exchange rates after Brexit, our Christmas catalogue already being published by then. We were left with two choices, either pass on the increases to our customers, or take the hit ourselves! We did the latter. So any small gain in margin this year will see some of the loss returned!

Face to face sales – dead or alive?

I enjoyed my weekend after not having one last week. It will be the same for many who were exhibiting and setting-up the show last weekend. As always, I spent the rest of the week exhausted and “peopled out”, but it serves me right for wearing a silly suit drawing attention to myself. One of the highlights of the show is being able to catch up with many customers and suppliers that sadly time doesn’t permit the rest of the year, so it’s a good exhaustion I am feeling!

“It’s showtime!”

So, despite the hottest weekend of the summer, it is nearly over. I always feel that the Tuesday after the Bank Holiday weekend feels like normal service is resumed, and judging by the number of cars on the M4 this morning, it seems true! I am normally away on holiday this week actually, so have no time to build up to the big event next weekend #SFFF2017. Not being on holiday this year means that I am looking forward to the event more than ever. A number of changes have been made this year which should change the feel of the show more back to how it used to be - smaller and more intimate

 
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