Sometimes, when the way ahead is blocked, you have to create your own way out. This was the challenge that sparked the creation of Regency Purchasing Group by current managing director Alex Demetriou two decades ago.
Already well-established in the food sector through a handful of family-run businesses in and around Weston-super-Mare, Regency’s purchasing arm was born out of necessity. On the search for a solution to his own procurement issues, Demetriou quickly found that the options available did not meet the needs of his business.
Existing buying groups were more than capable of setting up contracts with suppliers, but lacked the key insights into the industry. “What I really wanted from a buying group was more advice – what the latest trends were, what was happening in the market,” Demetriou recalls.
“Seeing that a genuine solution didn’t really exist, I employed someone to manage our own in-house procurement, with absolutely no expectations of creating a business from it.”
Supporting the supply chain
But once the savings started rolling in, it wasn’t long before his decision led to referrals for the group’s services. Through purely organic growth, Regency now handles 2,700 customers and is a key player in supporting the food and drink supply chain.
Demetriou has now cemented Regency in a consultative role, offering more to customers than just a way to get goods from manufacturers to retailers and the foodservice sector.
“Obviously, the primary purpose of the purchasing group is to save people money,” explains Demetriou. “It should make sense that pricing is more competitive – that’s the easy element. But we can offer things that are more difficult to measure – the knowledge and shared best practice we have from owning and operating our own sites.”
Demetriou says Regency strives to go the extra mile to ensure its members are given the right insights to facilitate growth. Unlike some purchasing groups, Regency does this by creating its own data sourced by its in-house programming team. In fact, the quality of its data has been so highly regarded that suppliers have approached the company for insights alone.
That shift away from straightforward procurement towards offering advice has been the biggest change Demetriou has seen in his business, especially over the past five years. “It’s not just about how you buy something cheap, it’s how do I sell something for more than it is today,” he explains.
“How do I dress the plate? How can I turn a £5 burger into a £6 burger? It’s the advice on premiumisation and all those types of activities. Understanding the latest trends and what customers are expecting has changed significantly in the last decade. But investing in technology will be the way forward – for us and many other businesses.”
Demetriou is very particular in how this data is used. Rather than offering it to the highest bidder, he tries to make sure it is used for the betterment of all his customers and the supply chain in general.
Making its insights known to members should also help manufacturers obtain a better price. For example, one suppler approached Regency with a query on the rising cost of producing beef. In its analysis, the company found that costs had risen by 8%, thanks to the extreme weather experienced the year before. With Regency’s help, it found out that the costs had been absorbed by butchers, preventing prices on the marketplace from rising.
“You can imagine the scenario in reverse – whereby costs don’t go up, the marketplace does increase in price at a sell-out value and suppliers would never be aware of that,” says Demetriou. “Buyers might use that to their advantage and try to increase pricing to customers. So, our interest is in reducing the cost to our customers but also making sure that everybody achieves a fair price.”
Challenges creating opportunity
Despite the challenges felt by many UK businesses, Brexit, extreme weather and fluctuations in the pound have actually presented Regency with opportunities. In troubled times, companies are seeking the help of Demetriou and his team to battle the challenges their businesses are facing.
“We’re seeing significant growth in our business as a result of these challenges. When times are difficult, people will turn to a purchasing group as part of the solution to help manage costs.”
Strategically placed between manufacturers, growers and retailers, Regency has novel insights on how the pressures of Brexit are affecting the supply chain – and Demetriou believes the UK is heading into the most challenging time he has seen in 20 years.
“Government keeps talking about low unemployment and a growing economy, but I don’t believe any of it,” he says. “When I speak to clients, you can see we are in an environment where nobody is particularly comfortable. People don’t have the same confidence – they’re more hesitant.”
With this in mind, Regency has worked with all of its members to help minimise the impact of their supply chains, with a major focus on understanding what will and won’t be affected. It suggests less focus on ambient food and drink and more on safeguarding perishable products. Another piece of work surrounds the impact the Minimum Wage and the National Living Wage has had on food and drink businesses.
From its bespoke data, professional insight into the supply chain and years of experience in saving its clients money, Demetriou believes Regency has developed into an essential hub for manufacturers’ purchasing and insight needs.
Job title: Managing director, Regency Purchasing Group
Domestics: Married with two children, girls aged nine and 11
CV: For more than 20 years, Demetriou has owned and operated businesses, ranging from hotels and restaurants to leisure attractions. He has been managing director at Regency Purchasing Group since 2008 and is also director of Weston-super-Mare’s Grand Pier, which is owned by Regency.
Away from work: Demetriou enjoys playing rugby and going on skiing trips. His passion for food and drink has led him to owning a smallholding, where he keeps chickens, pigs and lambs, and grows fruit and vegetables. His Cypriot heritage has fostered a love of Mediterranean food.