A Public Procurement Parable – The Two Butchers (Part 1)

Part 1

Once upon a time, there were two small towns out in the countryside, about 5 miles apart, Camborough and Farnberley. Each was home to about 10,000 citizens, and had a reasonable range of shops, pubs, cafes and other amenities clustered around their high streets and picturesque market places. The nearest big city was some 30 miles away.

Then, one day, the news broke; planning permission had been granted for a new supermarket, exactly half way between the towns. Some were excited at the prospect of more choice and part-time jobs for the teenagers of the area; others worried about the future of their local shops, mainly small, independent traders. Two years later, the supermarket opened; and very impressive it was too, with a café, a petrol station, a fresh meat counter …

But it wasn’t long until the effects started to be see in the two high streets. Sales for some of the shops dropped immediately, and it wasn’t long before the first casualty – a small fruit and vegetable shop in Farnberley – closed its doors forever. It could not compete with the supermarket’s huge range of good quality fresh produce, not to mention the easy car parking for shoppers with heavy bags.

Now it so happened that each town had a butcher’s shop, run by two families who had been in their respective settlements for many generation of butchering – indeed, each had occupied the same premises for at least the last 50 years. Soon, both saw their sales starting to be affected by the supermarket. Family meetings were called.

In Farnberley, Charles Jones, his wife Mary and two sons who also worked in the business sat down. “It’s not fair” said Mary. “The supermarket buys in bulk, we can’t compete”. But after some discussion, the family hatched a plan to protect their business.

The next day, Charles arranged a meeting with the Mayor of the town, who was also leader of the town council, and an old family friend. Charles explained their dilemma. “We are worried that the town will be left without a butchers shop. You wouldn’t want that, would you? Not everyone can get to the supermarket – how will the old, the infirm get the meat they want to buy if we go”?

The mayor looked worried. Jones has always been a good supporter of the town and indeed of the political party that controlled the council. But, Jones then said, he had an idea. What if the council agreed to give them the contract for all the meat that the council bought for their office canteen, for the two schools in the town, the local cottage hospital and so on? And perhaps councillors and council workers would sign a commitment to spend maybe £5 a week each in Jones’ shop?

“So if we get £50,000 a year guaranteed contract, plus a pledge from 200 people for £5 a week minimum each over the year, that gives us revenues of £100K. Of course we will sell more on top of that, but that would be enough to keep us afloat”.  The idea was put to the council meeting, and it was agreed that this was an excellent and creative way to support local business and make sure Farnberley kept its much-loved butchers.

Over in Camborough, the Wilson family took a different approach. Martin and Pam and their two daughters sat down to discuss the problem. “Right”, said Pam. “This is war, this is survival. It is us versus the supermarket. What do we have to do to make sure we win? What can we do that makes us better than the supermarket”?  Soon, the ideas were coming from all four family members.

“Provenience - we know where every piece of meat we sell comes from – we can name every farmer, and most are local. We should make more of that”.

“We can prepare cuts the way we know our regular customers want them – or get special products in. If someone wants a brace of partridge next week, we can do that”.

“We’re actually cheaper than the supermarket on a lot of items – we need to point that out to customers”.

“We’re nicer people! We can give amazing service  - what about a “joke of the day” that we tell to every customer”?

“Could we open up the back storage room, turn it into a cookery demonstration area – then once a month we put on a free demo for customers?”

“We do supply some caterers, but we could work harder at helping them, perhaps do some preparatory work that they do themselves at the moment”.

At the end of the meeting, the family had an agreed list of ten initiatives that they would start immediately, and ten more in reserve.

“Oh yes, and we should keep bidding for the meat supply contracts to the local councils of course”, added Martin.

(To be continued ...)

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