No lay-offs at Butterfield & Vallis despite sharp fall in food imports
With food imports to the Island off by well over $20 million in the last four years, the managers at Butterfield & Vallis admit “it’s clear that it isn’t business as usual”.
The family-owned food wholesaler has had to change strategy to cope with the lean times, yet remains a strong company, said food service general manager Alun Hughes, adding that sales have increased and accounts receivables are in “good shape”.
The company’s vice-president and COO Spencer Butterfield said Butterfield & Vallis employs more than 200 Bermudians at its three-acre consumer products site in Orange Valley, Devonshire, and its food service warehouse on Woodlands Road, Pembroke.
Commenting on the many rumours of food wholesalers carrying ‘mountains’ of debt from struggling restaurants and cutting off a small supermarket group, Mr Hughes said: “Management of our receivables is a principle focus for us. Our essential strategy is one of incentive.
“We took the strategic decision to continue to pay our suppliers as normal during the downturn and we continue to work with our own customers with that principle in mind.
“Customers are rewarded for remaining compliant with additional discounts on orders they place online. Currently we are the only local food distributor offering that advantage. We are genuinely appreciative of our customers’ support and will continue with that policy of additional discounts in the months to come. It has performed as we anticipated. By giving out we have received back, and our receivables are therefore in good shape and to plan.”
Mr Hughes said Butterfield & Vallis had seen what he described as a “dramatic contraction” in food service division sales across the board in about September of 2008.
Despite this, Mr Hughes said there’d been no lay-offs, and there were no plans to downsize the company, though the food service division has a no-overtime policy in effect. To compensate for seasonal swings in business, the company introduced a TOIL (Time off in Lieu) programme which allows increased hours to be “banked” at overtime rate and then given back in quieter months at full pay.
“We have grown in each of the last two years despite the difficult market,” Mr Hughes said. “February, the first month in a new financial year, has also been encouraging. Our focus is to train our staff, use our system benefits and be as efficient as possible. That has been our path for many months and has served us well. We have absolutely no intention of downsizing at this point.”
Instead, he and Mr Butterfield said the company has put in place strategies to deal with the downturn, focusing on staff training and customer satisfaction.
“We are focused on only what we can change and strive to spend as little time as possible on discussing things outside of our control,” Mr Hughes said.
“Our strategy is to be as flexible as we can, to be customer centric, and to add value wherever possible to the process.”
To that end the company brought in a motivational speaker for staff. Corporate coach John Kennedy (www.ishakeitup.com) came in to speak to staff just this month.
It has also installed a hi-tech dispatching system, to increase efficiency of its operations. The system uses global positioning satellite (GPS) technology to monitor the company’s fleet of delivery vans.
Butterfield & Vallis, which has carved and maintained relationships with food suppliers for 85 years, said its biggest competition is customers going direct to supplier/distributor.
“There remain many local supply options and also direct shipments from the US, “ Mr Hughes said.
“This ensures we remain competitive. Our sales team is aware of their challenges and continues to work hard to offer the best service and value we can. In today’s market it is clear that some will only sell on price.
“That can lead to downgrading of quality and is in our opinion potentially dangerous. That is something we endeavour to explain to customers on a daily basis.”
Food, beverage and tobacco imports in 2011 are set to be the lowest at least since 2008, according to the Quarterly Bulletin of Statistics. Final numbers are not in yet.
Between 2009 and 2010 the value of food imports dropped by $23 million, from $196 million to $173 million.