An explanation of what I said yesterday, or part of it at any rate.
Of course, one has to make a profit to keep in business and there is a normal mark-up on wholesale prices to cover costs and leave some profit too. But there are some things that people want to buy, but that are so expensive or so quickly perishable that you’re never going to make money on them. So, do you refuse to stock them? One reason that a local shopkeeper is in business is a genuine wish – and it’s good policy too, for customer loyalty – to provide the best possible service. One example of this is that Al delivers, free of charge. Most of the people he delivers to are elderly ladies who either are more-or-less housebound or who can get out but can’t carry their heavy shopping home. A few are working people who can’t shop during the week but still want to support independent shops.
The best way of making money from a shop is by attracting customers – obvious, indeed, but maybe in a less obvious manner than the one you first think of. Take cherries. They are expensive and spoil quickly. You must sell them in two days, one if the weather is very hot. Al’s first summer, he bought a box of cherries, sold half and had to throw away the rest – which meant that he lost money on cherries. By the time he’d built up the business for a couple of years, he could sell the whole box of cherries in a day – which meant that he not only made the profit on the second half of the box as well as the first, but he also didn’t make that loss on the second half; win-win, you see.
Regarding the peppers. If you went to the greengrocer and asked for a pepper and there wasn’t one, you’d have to go to the supermarket – and next time, you might go there in the first place rather than risk finding yourself unable to buy an item you wanted and wasting your time going to two shops. One can run out of things of course, especially if there’s a sudden change in the weather (everyone wanted salad yesterday and we ran out of cucumbers), but there’s a difference between “I’ve just sold the last one” at 3 o’clock and “We’re not stocking them until the price goes down” at 9 am. You try to gauge demand and buy in what you need, to create as little waste as possible while not turning away customers. If Al put his mark-up on the peppers, that might put the customer off buying; a pepper that had cost 65p suddenly going up to £1.20 or whatever could make you decide to do without; and then half the box would end up being thrown away and wasted. Better to make and lose nothing than lose more than you make through wastage. Chuck-outs are put in boxes and go to an animal sanctuary, by the way; anything unsuitable is composted, and our chickens eat cabbage and lettuce leaves. And grapes. They like grapes. Pigs are very partial to a pineapple, you know – they play football with it until it falls apart, then eat it.
Back to the explanation.
So, you take the rough with the smooth. It’s having customers and giving them a good product that matters most. Al decided early on to specialise in local and seasonal produce, as far as possible. Yes, there are many exceptions here – peppers for one – and not everyone on the green bandwagon understands that. I wrote sometime last year about the person who was perturbed at the distance bananas had travelled…I explained that bananas are not grown commercially anywhere in Europe, let alone Britain. Al was early in making this policy and it’s paid off. He supports local growers, and one of his Norwich wholesalers is making great progress in sourcing all sorts of products in East Anglia now, including, at present, flowers (many of those sold by the two excellent local florists are Dutch) and vegetable plants. He also cheerily buys from people who have a glut in their garden – if you think of doing this with produce from your allotment, check your rental terms first, it may not be allowed.
Ooh, stop press! Al’s website is up and running. Here is the link.