Some of the ways that we dealt with customers in the past must change

By Richard Hilson

- Last updated on GMT

Seafood supplier Stickleback Fish Co restaurant sector lockdown hospitality

Related tags: Fish, Seafood

Communication and flexibility between suppliers and customers is needed if the industry is to move out of this pandemic successfully.

Like so many suppliers the Coronavirus has meant we have had to change to supply directly to consumers - it was something we did within the first week of lockdown and before that we sent several vans loaded with fish and some team members to park up in and around the local area to sell to the public. We have now developed our website​ and working on growing this as a standalone business. It has generated some much-needed cash and has given us a focus over the last few months but unfortunately it will never replace the volume that the hospitality sector provides.

As devastating as this pandemic has been the one thing it has given us is the chance to assess our business in great detail and make the improvements that are necessary, but we never really had the time to get to. This means that some of the ways that we dealt with customers in the past must change.

We need to recover our losses, which will most likely take years. We could simply put all of our prices up, but this would not be a sustainable model in such a competitive market. Also, our customers are in the same position as us, they have been hit hard too and will need all the support we can offer them.

Taking all of this into account we know that it is our cost base that we need to work on, and our customers can play a key part in that. We have analysed the amount of deliveries that we do and how frequent, it showed that if our customers limited themselves to three to four deliveries a week then we would reduce the number we do by 15-20% each month, a huge cost saving.

Like most suppliers we have those customers that pay on time, every time, those customers that always pay but may be a little late, customers that need a little encouragement and then those that require a lot of time and resource to collect any money from. I do not envisage this changing much, but we will have to change how we deal with each of them.

Terms can be stretched over time and we find ourselves giving 90 days credit in some cases, which is too much. Most of our customers get paid for the produce they use within a few days if not immediately and although we are happy to offer credit terms, we feel it is only fair that those terms are kept to. In short, we do not feel the need to change the terms we offer but we will have to be firmer when it comes to enforcing them and reducing them to less favourable terms if necessary.

As we come out of lockdown it is essential that we get to speak to our customers, we have tried to call all 850 customers over the last month just to see how they are getting on and if they have any plans for when they open but due to the majority being on furlough we have only managed to speak with around 40% of them.

"As devastating as this pandemic has been
the one thing it has given us is the
chance to assess our business"

Our biggest concern is that they call us the day/night before opening and expect us to have the stock that we normally would. We need to speak to as many as possible to help us gauge how much stock we are going to need moving forward and so we can explain what is possible in terms of availability.

What I will take from this pandemic is that there is a demand for good quality food out there and whether the restaurants/pubs/hotels are closed or not that demand will not waiver, we all need to have a clear plan on how we meet that demand. I have been blown away by the entrepreneurial spirit shown by so many in how they have developed their offering almost overnight. Some of our customers have bought four times the amount of fish during lockdown than in the same period in previous years.

We want to incorporate some of these points into furthering some of the fantastic work that we have done over the last three years towards reducing our carbon footprint.

We have completed several projects already including a recycling project that has reduced our waste heading to landfill to less than 2% and have other projects in the pipeline including moving to electric vehicles for our deliveries, watch this space. We want to come out of this a stronger, better and greener company.

Communication and flexibility between us and our customers are going to be the key points for us to move out of this pandemic successfully. Things have changed; we all need to adapt to those changes.

Richard Hilson is sales and marketing director at Stickleback Fish Co.

Related topics: Business & Legislation


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