In a district where there is much competition this is difficult, but it is no common experience to find that purchasers of groceries will in the end support those shops that build up a reputation for keeping good things, even if they have to pay a little more, rather than go to the cheaper establishments whose goods are doubtful.
Without attempting to give a list of the articles to be stocked, which we have pointed out as being within the province of the wholesaler, we should like to mention that tea and coffee are" two things that more than all others must be depended upon to help in establishing a trade.
A tea must suit the water of the district. To get this, a sample of the water ought to be supplied to the wholesale house, and they will make a blend to suit the locality. A great trade in packet teas has been worked up by many firms, and although these are good in themselves, an effort should be made to sell a tea with one's own name on it, and, as we have indicated, it must be a good tea. The same argument may be applied to the sale of coffee. Roasted coffee beans of a good quality should be stocked, and a small mill kept on the premises to grind it fresh for each customer. Roasting the coffee as well is more satisfactory, but this is not possible in a small business, for many reasons; besides, freshly roasted beans can be had regularly. One should always remember that the turnover in tea and coffee is the mainstay of the business.
The average profit in the grocery trade is about 12 1/2 to 15 per cent. Proprietary articles, on the other hand, do not, as a rule, show as much as this. Tea and coffee, and a few other commodities, will show as much as 33 1/2 per cent. Naturally, this depends very largely on the class of trade and on the. buying. There is a great field for the display of skill when one goes to the wholesale house to buy. For instance, there is not only the quality of the article to be considered, but the time to purchase. Dried fruits, for example, fluctuate in price.
Before the season of greatest demand ' approaches, one has to consider whether purchases should be made in advance to the utmost extent of one's capital. It is here that the individual capacity of the shop-keeper is on trial, and the exercise of the necessary judgment places the successful one ahead of her competitors. Buying in the cheapest and selling in the dearest market, other things being equal, is sure to command success. It should be noted, in this connection, that a good buyer can help a bad seller, but even a good seller is handicapped by a bad buyer. Things bought well are already sold at a profit, while badly bought stock brings in its train dissatisfied customers and corresponding loss.
In many of the large establishments it is not going too far to say that stockkeeping has been reduced to a fine art. Where the amount of business justifies it, a special assistant is employed for this particular department. Needless to add, no such attention is possible in a small concern. It is by no means easy to keep what everybody wants, and so arrange matters that there is neither overstocking or understocking.
In the first case, it is tying up capital; and, secondly, one may run out of those articles for which there is a demand, compelling customers to go elsewhere. The safest plan, after making a discovery as to the quantities required for the ordinary trade, is not to overstock. At a pinch, if short of an article, it can easily be procured from a neighbouring tradesman until a supply arrives from the wholesale house with the next order. There will be no profit in this, but it is better than allowing the customer to go without the article. Of course, one must not let the customer know that she is being supplied from the shop over the way. One cause of overstocking is giving orders to too eloquent travellers for goods that one cannot dispose of as anticipated. The commercial traveller is out to sell, but under no circumstances should one be persuaded to buy goods from him unless they are actually in demand. In giving orders a duplicate book should be kept, and all orders written. In receiving stock from the carman it should be signed for " Not Examined," and as soon as possible thereafter carefully scrutinised, and, if not according to order or sample, returned or a claim made, as the case may be. In view of the provisions of the Foods and Drugs Act all goods should be purchased under warranty.
This is a question that admits of drawing no hard or fast line. As a matter of choice, cash trading is certainly preferable. It would, however, be an act of folly to turn away good business simply because the customers did not find it convenient to pay cash. It is a deplorable fact that many persons are lax in the payment of tradesmen's accounts, and the bad debts contracted in the grocery business form no inconsiderable item in the course of a year. One cannot carry on a credit trade without making bad debts. It is one of the risks of the business. If credit has to be given, one must ascertain by careful inquiry whether the people are likely to pay, and if there is the slightest doubt in the matter a refusal must follow. On the whole, however, we are disposed to recommend the principle of trading for cash. It may affect the turnover, but it is best for those in a small way.
However small the business, it will be necessary to keep a number of books. If one is not conversant with bookkeeping, for a few shillings a week a local accountant will undertake to see that these are kept properly. A cash trade needs few books to record the transactions; if credit is given, a ledger must be added to the other books of account. Cash receipt books should also be kept, either in duplicate or triplicate, so that each sale can be traced and a receipt given to the customer.
Once a quarter, or oftener, stock, should be taken and a balance struck, to see how things are working out. Allowance has to be made for depreciation of stock and fixtures, and the actual state of the trade disclosed. The goods that pay well and those that do not are carefully considered, and the necessary steps taken to correct any irregularities.
In our reference to shop-fitting we stated that the front and the interior must be attractive. This will help to bring customers, but much more is required to keep them. Bearing in mind our caution about quality in goods, one must also remember that display and cleanliness are two features that impress the onlooker. Window-dressing, particularly, is an item of no small moment in the eyes of the shopper. If one has no natural ability for this, no hesitation should be felt in employing an expert window-dresser for a fee to come regularly to make an effective show. If funds do not permit of this, see that the window is dressed once a week, and that all the articles are dusted and kept clean daily. The same remarks apply to the interior. Dirt and slovenliness are the enemies of progress in business, and while they might be overlooked in a man, they would never be forgiven in a woman. Having done one's best with the shop, the customer should receive every attention. Each one who enters the shop should be treated courteously, and whatever is required must be supplied. If it is desired to send things to the residences, a system of delivery must be organised. A youth with a nicely painted truck can perform this task, and while delivering the parcels further orders may be solicited. One last word, make your customers satisfied at all costs. Tell them that you are willing to exchange any article or return the money if not suitable. Pay personal attention to those who come into the shop. No matter how small or large the business is, people like to receive attention from the proprietor.