The language might have changed, but the pressure is the same

Put your hands in the air and give me your money – this is a stick-up’. Or as it’s now said: ‘Hold hands and play fair, I request your partnership investment – this is an opportunity.’

It’s fascinating how retailer demands are now phrased to be code -compliant. ‘Investment’ not ‘support’, ‘request’ not ‘demand’. Asda asked suppliers to state their ‘requirements to unlock investment’ – making it their proposal, not Asda’s. Clever: it follows the letter of the code but certainly not the spirit. The code is a six -page document which, practically speaking, gives (at best) direction on fair play. But the legalese allows for interpretation; who is to say what ‘best endeavours’ are? So, a new language has emerged: I call it Weaselese. Our retailers are fluent in it and it means that challenges through the code are doomed to lengthy debate rather than swift judgement.

Sitting behind the language is the same old pressure. Some call it threats but think of it as negotiation and know it’s always your choice to stick or twist. You must challenge it rather than just roll over – especially in a supplier agreement, or you’ll be a slave to your terms forever. Walk away if you’re not happy, ‘no deal’ is a good result sometimes. But don’t then moan about it for the next five years like the guy with the shed full of toys in Reading. He had a rolling supply, not a fixed -length contract. The range was not delivering for the Tesco space occupied and he was asked to add £45,000 to the proposition. GSCOP would have changed the wording, but not the requirement. The same exists in grocery, you just won’t see so ‘much of it written down any more. This negotiation could have been bridged in many ways but he chose to walk away. Fine, good decision, so leave it at that. The context of threatening retailer behaviour is wrong because if the proposition was good Tesco would have called him back. Fair play does not mean ‘go easy on me’. Negotiate hard for a good deal then require the retailers to honour it. Developing 700 extra pages to tighten up the code would damage open trading and the consumer would lose out. Retailers are going to get round this code, so learn the new language and how to deal with it.

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