Last week we were visited by some of our growers from Andalucia. For years they’ve produced veg for us that we can’t grow at home without heating with fossil fuels. As I approached Pepe, who this year has grown the spinach and asparagus which precedes the UK crop, I extended my hand with typical English reserve, only to be pulled into an extended Andalusian embrace. After six years, what started as a trading relationship has developed into a lasting friendship; one that’s benefited us and our box customers and will, I expect, see one or both of us into retirement.
The contrast couldn’t be greater with our (now long past) annual trips to supermarket HQ: having scrubbed up for the nightmare session of abuse from a buyer, the visit would start with the ritualistic humiliation of a two-hour wait (calculated to soften you up) before finally we would be summoned to meet the latest testosterone-charged buyer. Thankfully, that was fifteen years ago, but I gather things at some supermarkets haven’t changed much.
Does business have to be done like this? After thirty years of trying to find an efficient and courteous alternative I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that competition is pretty good at driving innovation and improvement. Brutal as it sounds, if you don’t have the incentive to find a way of both doing what you have to do today, and doing it a little bit better tomorrow, it’s only a matter of time before someone else does and your number is up.
This is not to accept that short term, cut-throat deal making is the best way. A school friend has spent his working life making parts for the automotive industry. I’m always amazed to hear how the larger car manufacturers, having selected a partner, invest heavily in making the relationship work, in the long run and for both parties. Car manufacture must be one of the most competitive and sophisticated industries in the world; it is heartening that there, like Pepe and me, they have reached the conclusion that building and maintaining relationships is critical to long term success.