We recently popped along to Pelham House Hotel to interview Paul Morgan, the manager. Our aim is to get a more on-the-ground understanding of the challenges facing local independent businesses, especially those that use the Lewes Pound. Here is the record of our meeting and we hope it will be of interest to other local businesses who probably struggle with similar issues laid out by Paul.
We also want to take this opportunity to thank Pelham House for their support of the Lewes Pound.
Cost and availability mainly. Goods and services has to be at the right price or our customers just won’t pay for it.We deal with around 17 local and regional suppliers; many are in Lewes but we also go to Eastbourne and Chichester. We deal with local food and wine producers but also services such as carpenters, plumbers, electricians and I.T.
Sourcing locally gives character and individuality to the food and services we offer and that is a great selling point to our guest. However If every product or service was sourced locally, it would not be financially viable
With small local businesses, you get a personal touch. It’s more about relationship. You get a good response to problems and issues whereas with a large supplier your problems are processed via a national network /call centre; it’s a bit impersonal and often more complicated
Well you don’t get such good deals and additional support that a large supplier gives, or the marketing support. For example I source my milk and dairy products locally but supposing I went to a large national suppler? They would support by helping with dispense and display products such as refrigerated units. A large alcohol drinks supplier will supply items such as parasols, fridges, ice buckets. Of course they would want to tie you in for the long term and although prices are generally cheaper this has to be carefully managed as prices soon rise, so a sense check is always advisable.
The other disadvantage is administrative costs. The more local suppliers you have the greater the time – and therefore money – spent processing paperwork. If you deal with just a few large suppliers your admin costs are greatly reduced.
You have to strike a balance between sourcing locally and nationally and bear in mind, not all guests /customers are looking for the local experience –we’re still in a recession and people all demand the best deals, vouchers, discounts. Where I can source locally I do but inevitably I have to mix and match; for example our breakfast provision will include local Yoghurt and milk from Rye but also cereals distributed from a national supplier. We would also mix up ingredients sourced locally and nationally to create our own food products, for example we make our own Granola and fruit compotes from local and nationally distributed items .
You really need to target your customers, not just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com Phone up and ask ‘who is the right person to speak to about….’ If it’s food it might not be the manager, it might be the chef, so take a little time to identify who does what in the business you want to sell to – and get the person’s name.
The other thing is how you present your goods. Send a sample or drop it round; whether it is a bar of soap, a piece of cheese or other offering, make sure the sample is nicely packaged and presented, along with a brief letter. I can very quickly tell whether or not someone has put in a bit of effort into what they are doing and I respond accordingly. If I think they’ve made a real effort I make a point of giving feedback – even if the answer has to be no. Of course you can’t do this if you make dressing gowns or other more expensive products, but the point is to plan with care when you approach a customer.
Parking! Parking and pavements. St Andrews Lane, the road we are on, is heavily used even though it is a narrow and has parking bays that really constrict traffic. We’ve had visitors who have scraped their car trying to negotiate the road. It is also difficult for delivery of goods and rubbish collection.
Short stay meter Parking is very expensive and visitors don’t exactly relish having to run out doors to move the car at 8am even before they have had breakfast. We have 31 bedrooms but only 12 spaces and it is a constant irritant to customers who complain to us about where to park or the steep charges they incur.
The other problem is irregular pavements and pot-holes that have caused accidents to our guests and staff. It is disappointing that these problems are not dealt with speedily and effectively.
We like to pay in Lewes Pounds and are very open to businesses that will do the same. Even if the amounts are small, it is a reminder to support local businesses. However we sometimes get only nodding support from others; some well established local people and businesses would rather not take Lewes Pounds and that surprises us. We encourage the Lewes pound!