IIBN Interview

Founder / Director, Lucy Flinter reveals to IIBN that her business Zero Procure is a business idea conceived and launched during the 2020 pandemic out of a desire to support affected industries, we’re a procurement company with a difference. Offering customers simplified procurement with zero cost, zero risk, zero contract.

We help operators and suppliers work together to make procurement effortless, efficient and above all save time and money. As well as simplifying procurement, we add great value through our vast network of suppliers.

Through our vast UK wide customer network, Zero Procure also provides a high yielding and low-cost sales tool for suppliers. We’re headquartered in London, servicing businesses of any size, in any industry.  As well as making procurement effortless, we are driven by the desire to give back to our industry and we look forward, in the near future, to announcing further initiatives including the Foundation Zero charitable trust and our thought leadership platform, Zero Connect.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

My main priorities are to look at ways in which we can support businesses. Our founding partners all come from successful industry backgrounds and have extensive networks and expertise. One of our key objectives is to build on these foundations, expanding our network and get our message across through the power of great networkers to make introductions.

To support this objective, we have implemented an Introducers Network to be put in front of businesses who want to save money and importantly not have to pay for the privilege. To make this attractive to the people who want to become part of our Introducers Network, we have created a lucrative scale of commission for successful introductions.

What are your biggest challenges?

There is so much uncertainty in the marketplace resulting in businesses being unsure of what fire to put out first. Universally our model has been welcomed, but it’s not an ideal time to get employers to be able to give us time, when they are working hard to save jobs and in some instances their businesses.

It’s been so encouraging to know that when we have been able to talk to someone and start the process, we have been able to show them savings, improvement in quality and services.

The other hurdle has been people’s perception of procurement companies, having either used them or heard from others about their experiences with them in the past. Showing people that we are not here to take over their entire procurement strategy, but simply to target chosen areas that they wish us to look at, has been a challenge, but again one that has been so satisfying when we achieve this.

How has your business strategy been adapted in the context of the Covid-19 crisis?

We are very much a business born out of the pandemic. We simply saw the plight of our industry as we entered lockdown in March 2020 and knew we had to do something to help.

We recognised that all businesses would be forced to look at costs and many businesses, across all sectors, may be facing either collapse or likely to be in serious jeopardy.

Following this catalyst, we launched Zero Procure in October 2020, setting out to help operators and suppliers work together to manage their way through these troubled times. We wanted to create something different to the more traditional procurement companies models out there which tend to either promise large savings after an extensive audit or require a monthly outlay to “stay on top” of industry pricing.

Our idea is different. Zero Procure will not at any point ever charge any of our customers a penny. Never. We don’t require a contract and there really is no risk involved for our customers. It really is as simple as that.

Although launched during the pandemic, we are here for the long haul and we know that will be a huge asset to businesses as they work their way through the challenges this pandemic has caused.

What are the challenges facing your industry going forward?

We work across many industries and the main challenge is ongoing uncertainty and how this affects the ability for businesses to effectively plan and strategise. If 2020 has taught us anything it’s to be agile and flexible in our approach to doing business. This is likely to continue as a norm as we go forward and come out of the pandemic, navigate Brexit and finalise future trading partner relationships.

In the short term, challenges include building the business back up with limited resources, re-engaging with employees after extended periods of furlough, relying on a largely domestic market until travel and trade opens up to other countries and accelerating digitalised experiences and e-commerce.

What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Some of the big trends we are seeing at Zero Procure is the hyper-localisation and focus on provenance. Consumers want to know about the origin of their products, how they were created and taken care of and who are the people behind the brands they select to work with.

There is a big drive to support local industry for many reasons. A key consideration is sustainability including the reduction of carbon footprint as well as maintaining human and animal rights.

Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

Whilst it’s continuously highlighted in our daily lives, I’d like to see a renewed focus on sustainability and the re-imagining of local community engagement. I think we’ve all witnessed the importance of our fragile environment and seen the benefits of a supportive community. This should be hard-wired into doing business. I hope, as a collective, we find a more conscious approach to capitalism.

Are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

We’re seeing the need for a flexible workforce which can be delivered through a collaborative network of talent. As well as product and services, Zero Procure are also able to support businesses with flexible resourcing of talent – everything from marketing and PR strategy to operational support.

How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

We work across many lines of spend with one of them under particular Brexit effect being the procurement of food and beverage. The Food and Drink Federation estimates that over the course of a year the UK imports around 40% of food and in winter, when Brexit will come into effect, the UK usually imports about 60% due to the limited ability to grow fresh procedure domestically.

There is also the consideration of imported ingredients for UK products and if they are subject to delay or disruption which could lead to production and distribution shortages. This could have a profound impact on many of our clients and suppliers.

We have also witnessed unethical practices coming under scrutiny such as the backlash against trade deals including chlorinated chicken resulting in the #saveourstandards campaign by Bite Back 2030 so it will be interesting to see how this drives a more local approach to purchasing.

Of course, this is just one of many sectors that will feel the impact of Brexit. At the time of writing, we still don’t know the regulations and the conditions in which we will be trading so it makes it extremely difficult for operators to plan ahead.

We have started to see moves by some operators to a more UK-centric supply chain, to try to mitigate problems with the availability of certain products.

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Success comes in many forms. As founders, we’re all proud parents and we are driven to develop a business that ensures a balance of commercial success and the ability to carve out time for our families and our ourselves.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Stay flexible and stay positive. From chaos comes opportunity so keep searching for those nuggets of light in the dark. Persistence pays – keep going, especially when the going gets tough, try to learn from the experience and keep moving forwards.

What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

Having launched in October 2020 with an idea conceived as we headed into lockdown in March 2020, we’ve been thrilled by the immediate response from customers, suppliers, industry peers and the media.

We support businesses of all sizes and we’ve been so encouraged by the reception to our business model, particularly with those smaller or independent businesses, who perhaps don’t have as many internal resources as larger organisations. We have effectively become their procurement arm, adding a lot of value by bringing independent businesses together to galvanise buying power to achieve lower prices. We also save them valuable time in negotiating the best prices with the right suppliers.

What’s next for your company?

Our goal is to be the most respected procurement partner in the UK.  Our goal is to develop long term partnerships with businesses and support them well into the future.

A big focus for us going forwards is the creation of a charitable trust into which a percentage of Zero Procure’s profits will be paid, with the funds being used to support business, who have been impacted financially by unforeseeable and unavoidable events, get back on their feet.

What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in 2020/21?

As businesses emerge from restricted trading, we recognise the focus will be on managing costs and developing lean operations. We feel this is where our no cost service will be of particular benefit to businesses.

We’re also looking forward to working with some business associations to develop purchasing groups to support their members to buy from one another with the additional benefit of our ability to galvanise buying power, to save them time and money.

Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

We hope to continue to gather pace in working with more customers to deliver our zero cost purchasing solution and to launch our charitable trust, Foundation Zero.

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