How to Manage Suppliers

Incentives are the cherry on the top – not the actual pudding.

Supply line Michael Menegos has managed and worked in bars in London, Barcelona as well as his hometown of Athens – and he’s shortly opening in Paris in partnership with a major player. Ahead of his new venture in the French capital, Michael takes time out to offer some great tips on something he has plenty of experience in: working with suppliers.

“First off, I always want to establish a relationship of mutual trust with my supplier, to almost become co-workers in the same field. I would like him to be transparent, confident in what he’s selling me, know what’s in the bottle, and why he wants a place on my back bar. He has to know my audience. If I’m running a high volume bar, I don’t want him forcing a top-of-the-range product on me, as it’s just going to gather dust on the top shelf. So look out for how well the supplier has done his research, and thought about what you need. A good supplier will know your market already, and not be discovering it as he’s trying to build his brand.

Then – and this is really crucial – I want them to try the product with me, to actually physically open the bottle during an appointment. I like to sit down in a civilised way and discuss what’s on offer, without any pretentiousness or big talk.

We want to see how we’re going to sell this drink together. Ok, there are listings fees and occasional incentives, but essentially we’re not being paid by the drinks company to sell their product, so they have to recognise the need to build something that goes beyond a mere commercial agreement. Even a seller of a massive line has to build advocacy.

Then they should be telling you some rituals, tricks and stories to help you sell the product. Incentives are fine, but they’re just the cherry on the top – not the actual pudding. It’s really helpful if you can agree to a trial period for a product that might be difficult to sell, one that is unknown or trying to relaunch in a very different way.

And look out for those listings fees. In the short term of course they can help, but long term they can consume bar owners and be destructive. That’s because you end up listing not what your guests want, but what offers you the most cash.

It’s much more helpful if you can get a supplier to offer money for educational and training purposes – helping bartenders visit the place where the product is made, or gain the benefits of sales and management techniques learnt at the larger companies.

I’m not saying don’t take a listings fee – many of you have mortgaged your house to open a bar. And if you’re transparent about incentives with guests, they’re fine. But be very careful!

Just remember to look out for those suppliers that bother to sit down at your bar and have a drink – people that spend time with you and actually listen to what you say rather than pushing their agenda. They’re the ones you really need to work with.”