Rosemary French OBE, Executive Director of the Gatwick Diamond Initiative, is the Chair of the Gatwick Diamond Meet the Buyer steering committee. Rosemary explains to PBM why Meet the Buyers is such a big date on the business calendar…

Can you explain how the event works?

We know how difficult it is for small businesses to get in front of larger companies, both in the private and public sector. Just getting past the receptionist and the secretary is often an achievement when you are a new supplier to that company. The idea of the event is to bring into one place on one day up to 40 large companies who currently have products or services they wish to purchase. We then invite up to 200 small businesses with products and services that match those contracts. These small businesses have an opportunity to meet the buyers privately on a one-to-one basis and make a sales pitch to them to be followed up with an appointment after the event. We do not put together suppliers and buyers where there are no contracts to match, so nobody’s time is wasted.

How long has this event run in the Gatwick area?

This is our 17th year! In that time, over £22.5m of business is estimated to have been created because of the Gatwick Diamond Meet the Buyer. In 2017, there will be more than 2,000 sales meetings on the day alone and many hundreds of small businesses will have received free training at the workshops.

How did you get involved?

I chair the steering group for the Meet the Buyer programme that meets fortnightly and works with our event organiser and delivery partner gdb: Gatwick Diamond Business Association. My relationship with the Meet the Buyer event goes back as far as 2001 when I also sponsored the event every year as CEO of Surrey Business Link. The event used to be called Gatwick Meet the Buyer because most of the larger UK airports held similar events. But we recognised that the event is larger than just Gatwick suppliers.

I believe that the Gatwick Diamond Meet the Buyer is now the largest Meet the Buyer event in the UK, now that Heathrow dropped their event. Potential suppliers from across the UK are attracted to the Gatwick Diamond Meet the Buyer although they pay a premium to attend the event. Businesses in Surrey, Kent, West and East Sussex and Brighton all receive a considerable discount at only £125 to meet up to 10 large buyers.

What role does the Gatwick Diamond Initiative play?

The Gatwick Diamond Initiative is one of the sponsors and has been since 2008. All seven District and Borough Councils (Reigate & Banstead, Mole Valley, Epsom & Ewell, Tandridge, Crawley, Mid Sussex and Horsham) and two County Councils (Surrey and West Sussex) that fund us effectively sponsor the event through the Gatwick Diamond Initiative.

It is so important to Crawley Borough Council that they add additional sponsorship. Critically, Gatwick Airport is a key sponsor recognising the importance of local supply chain development.

In your opinion, what makes this event special?

What makes this programme special are the nine free training seminars and workshops. Eight of them before the event help small businesses prepare when making their pitch.  Have they got the right policies in place? What is their competitive edge? How sharp is their elevator pitch? Overcoming negative behaviours. How to supply the public sector. Understanding the psychology of the customer and so on.

Even if a small business does not have the right match for the big Meet the Buyers event on the 18th October, they can benefit from these workshops which could have cost them £3,000 in training costs if they attend them all. The final ninth event after the Meet the Buyer event is about how to follow up leads. It is so surprising how many small businesses have a good meeting arranged by us with the buyer only to find that they do not immediately follow up and expect the buyer to phone them!

This year, Gatwick Diamond Business are helping deliver the event - what benefits does this relationship bring?

GDB, Gatwick Diamond Business Association bid for the delivery contract this year and beat two other very strong bidders. They won the contract because they could demonstrate that they knew the business sector make-up of the area very well, and because they had excellent relationships with partners such as the many national and local business organisations whose role is key in reaching as wide a business community as possible. They also have a long history of successful business events locally, the most well-known being the Gatwick Diamond Business Awards.

Why should suppliers be there?

Suppliers recognise the importance of buying locally. They have more control over the buying and delivery process because it is closer to home; they often find it more environmentally friendly because goods lorries are not travelling long distances; it can contribute to their CSR policies; they can find out what products and services are available locally; it is time effective because they are able to meet several buyers on one day; and most large companies want to contribute to their local business community. And of course, it is free for a Supplier to attend!

The Gatwick Diamond and its hinterland is an amazingly collaborative economic area. Already worth £24bn, the economic region is third only behind Thames Valley and London. The strength of  the area is its diversity across several sectors which means just about anything can be bought and supplied here. So much so, that this year we are dividing the buying zones into our strongest sectors:

• Business Services - to include Professional, Financial, Digital, Educational

• Manufacturing and Innovation

• Public Sector and Utilities

• International Business

• Construction and Infrastructure

To finish, all I can say is why wouldn’t a supplier or a potential buyer want to take up this great opportunity!

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