Old sales tricks spur Sunderland equipment firm

Door to door sales is no longer the primary method of generating business for most firms, but that doesn’t ring true for a husband and wife team behind a Sunderland supplier about to celebrate its 20-year anniversary.

Mick Brown and his wife Kathy set up catering equipment and refrigeration firm Cooltrader two decades ago next March, supplying kit to local customers throughout the North East.

While the company generates 80% of its sales through its website these days, Mick still tries to see as many clients as possible by going cold calling three days a week.

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“We are doing really well and the secret for us has been that while we sell on the web I go out knocking on doors and sell face to face within a 60-mile radius,” he says. “True, I have to go in many shops to get a breakthrough but it’s an old system that works. How many of today’s order takers could do that? Telephone a few of these big wholesalers up and they haven’t got a clue about the equipment.”

Brown says the company has knocked back many opportunities to scale up over the years, preferring instead to operate on the basis that smaller overheads mean larger profits. Its biggest extravagance is a small warehouse it owns.

“Our biggest achievement to date is surviving in a very tough industry and proving the doubters wrong,” he says. “In the past 20 years there have been five competitors locally who have all fallen by the wayside and gone bust. We have sold millions of pounds worth of equipment since we started.”

Although based up in the North East, Cooltrader supplies to customers nationwide and has relationships with more than 150 engineers throughout the country to ensure kit can be serviced.

Brown insists that he will continue to invest time in face to face selling, believing it is still more effective than any other approach.

“These days I am not up against salesmen, it’s smartphones, the web, and people with iPads. But many folks still prefer to talk to someone, and if they like you it’s more than likely they will buy if you are selling the right product. I tell it like it is and that’s why we have been a success. A punter can spot a phoney salesman immediately. I will tell a buyer if the product they are interested in is rubbish or not!”

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