Bass Brewers, the brewing arm of leisure giant Bass, has scrapped a plan to levy a 500 fee on design groups wishing to join its approved suppliers list, after it was greeted with outcry by design industry figures.
But sliding-scale discounts due to start at the same time, which will see, for example, a 3 per cent discount demanded from consultancies by the brewer if billings rise by 3 per cent, still stand.
This forms part of a broader drive by Bass Brewers to extend formal relationships with all suppliers. Companies thought to include florists and taxi operators are understood to have reacted similarly to the design industry.
Bass Brewers wrote to consultancies including Design House and Butler Cornfield Dedmaan last month, inviting them to join the suppliers list. Both design groups confirm they received the letters, but decline to comment.
Design Bridge and Tutssels @The Brand Union, both already on Bass Brewers’ design roster, would not have been subject to the charge.
“We will be advising all employees that from 1 March they will only be authorised to place orders with suppliers listed on our own internal Intranet site,” wrote Bass Brewers director of purchasing David Heede, in the letter.
After explaining this would incur administrative costs, the letter goes on: “As a consequence, we would like you to contribute towards these incremental costs by paying an initial administration fee of 500 plus VAT.”
In 1998, Bass Brewers had a listed annual marketing budget of 55m.
“Clearly, while it is impossible for us to predict with certainty what the actual impact upon your business will be, the potential is undoubtedly ‘favourable’ for those suppliers embarking on this scheme,” continues the letter.
Richard Watson, of client/consultancy matchmaker GDR, says the fee proposal is practically unprecedented. “It’s one of the most outrageous things I’ve ever heard a client do. There’s no guarantee of work and how much does it cost to administrate? It’s just a profit centre,” says Watson.
Design Business Association chief executive Ian Rowland-Hill says. “I can’t think of words to say how peculiar it is. I know there are phenomenal pressures on prices everywhere, but it’s really not the way clients should build relationships with designers.”
Heede declines to talk to Design Week. However, the company has issued a formal statement: “While most suppliers undoubtedly saw the Intranet system as an opportunity to grow their business… and welcomed the opportunity for greater visibility, there was not wholehearted support to pay for this.
“Therefore, we have written to suppliers confirming to them that while this initiative will continue, there will be no Intranet administration fee levied on suppliers which wish to participate. We have expressed our regret for any concerns this may have caused.”
All other aspects of the original letter, including the retrospective discounts which GDR’s Watson says “could cripple design companies”, will be retained, says another statement from Bass Brewers.