Although 2010 was the worst year Charley Stoney had ever experienced in business, FMI’s dynamic managing director, sees plenty of opportunity ahead.
Jan 18 2011 By Fionnuala Carolan
For the past four years Charley Stoney has been managing director of field management company, FMI, which provides field sales personnel, merchandisers and researchers for a number of companies in the FMCG sector among others. Prior to this position Stoney was managing director for McConnells Fusion, a direct marketing and communications company. She says the creativity she used in this position was carried over to FMI to create innovative and cost effective solutions for clients.
Gaining new business has been a challenge for most companies over the past year. According to Stoney 2010 was the worst year ever experienced in the business. Although she also says: “Compared to others we’ve been very lucky. Boots came on board earlier in the year and we are doing a lot of work with Bord Bia.”
“I think the reason 2010 was so bad was that there was such indecision in the market. People were floundering. They knew they had to cut costs so they cut the standard costs. In terms of FMCG and grocery, it was easy to see where the stagnation came from because everyone was waiting for Dunnes to move to central distribution and it didn’t happen to the extent that we thought.”
Adapting to the market
With a payroll of between 500 and 700 at any one time the company has had to adapt to the more modest needs of its customers of late by ensuring its staff are multi-skilled.
“No longer can companies afford to have a rep going in to place a call, then a merchandiser going in to merchandise a delivery and then possibly another person going in to sell promotions. You just can’t afford that number of people so our field representative has to be multi-skilled and able to negotiate space and communicate well,” says Stoney.
“Our contract sales and merchandising teams for clients such as Glanbia, Cadbury, Jacob Fruitfield and Walkers all have to apply this approach.”
Contrary to the thinking that some field marketing services may be viewed as discretionary spending during a downturn Stoney says that it would also be foolish to overlook retail auditing and mystery shopping at a time when keeping the customer happy is vital.
“Our industry should benefit from the outsourcing trend as more and more people shy away from having overhead costs and salaries on their books and look for a more flexible solution,” she says. In fact she believes that outsourcing will continue to grow as businesses see it as an alternative to taking on extra staff.
Varied services for a varied clientele
Mystery shopping and retail auditing are some of the specialised services used by FMI’s clients such as Esso and Boots.
“We’ve been running the Esso Rexie audit for the past seven years” she explains. “It’s a two and a half hour store audit once a month. The results from that audit determines whether the manager gets their bonus for that month so the integrity of our staff has to be entirely without question in those instances.”
The company also has the contract for auditing retailers for the Responsible Retailing of Alcohol in Ireland (RRAI), ensuring that they are complying with their Code of Practice. The Convenience Store and Newsagents Association (CSNA) have also used FMI.
“We carried out a massive mystery shopping exercise for the CSNA on underage tobacco sales in independent shops. We visited over 1,500 stores three times over a six-week period. It was a way of educating the retailer about the importance of training and worked very well.”
One of its longest running partnerships is with Superquinn, carrying out promotions for the company for the past 8/9 years.
“Having run demonstrations for Superquinn since Feargal Quinns day, we won back the exclusivity for this retailer when they officially pitched it out again in June 2010. Any brand that wants to trial a product in Superquinn must go through FMI,” she says.
The joining up of complimentary brands for promotions is often done especially in the case of in-store demonstrations. “We work with the retailer to see what promotions they have coming down the line. Say it’s a BBQ promotion in June, we can trial a sausage brand with a sauce brand. Combining two brands offers value for money. We’re constantly trying to make it work for the suppliers as well as the retailer. Brands are happy to mix with each other as long as it is complementary.”
To a brighter future
Optimism is of utmost importance right now in business and Stoney has an abundance of it.
“I absolutely feel in my bones that 2011 will be a turnaround year”, she says. “We’re in the process of a few big tenders and decisions are being made early January. I think people are fed up with not making a decision and sitting on the fence waiting to see 2010 results.”
Plans for 2011 include hosting a reporting technology seminar in February where Stoney plans to pitch new services and ideas to clients. “Our clients already know about our technology and are benefiting from it but at that seminar I’ll be explaining how I am also really going to start expanding our technology services to non-clients.
“If you are going to try to link up your database with your SKU list, your ordering and information from the field, the investment usually starts at 50k plus. The way our technology works we can actually offer services like this to clients at a set up cost of between €5,000 - €8,000.”
Already the company carries out online ordering for the Glanbia convenience sector where it sends online orders from handheld devices in store three times a day to the Glanbia depot and the store receives the product the next day. “I want to take these functions to new clients to provide them with the technology without a huge investment,” she explains.
Syndication of services
Stoney is also keen on introducing more syndication of services and brands to save existing clients money. “We already have our Tesco syndicating team which works for Jacob Fruitfield, for P&G on the Gilette brand and for Carroll’s Cuisines. This is an extremely successful syndication. The client benefits from the cost savings of shared mileage and travel costs and from using a team that have in-depth knowledge and experience within their given stores.”
Above all Stoney stresses that FMI can tailor make services to suit different clients. “We are flexible and we are always looking for cost effective solutions for our clients.”