A good sign

Five wholesalers tell Lindsay Sharman how they are using traditional and high-tech signage to improve communication and navigation inside and outside the depot

To the suppliers that fill the shelves of cash & carry depots up and down the UK with their products, the importance of branding is undeniable. The likes of Coca-Cola, Walkers and Cadbury are instantly recognisable to retailers, consumers and wholesalers, and the power of those brands translates into multi-million pound sales.

For wholesalers, too, customer perception is paramount to good business and tools such as clear signage and strong branding can be used to maximise sales.

According to recent research from Him!, retailers spend an average of 56 minutes in-depot, with 80% of retailers questioned saying they want to get in and out as quickly as possible. The survey also found that retailers find it particularly frustrating when a product or category is moved to a new location because it increases the length of time they have to spend ­shopping.

The challenge for wholesalers and depot managers, then, is to make sure the space is easy to navigate and that signage is clear so the time spent shopping is minimised and productive.

Signpost and deliver

Marcus Singh of Hyperama Wholesale, is overseeing a project to install new signage at depots in all three of the company’s locations: Nottingham, West Bromwich and Peterborough. The project will see the installation of two different types of signs. The first is very large signs that will be suspended from the ceiling to signpost each department. The second is smaller signs to mark out the sub-sectors within each category.


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It’s a significant investment for the company, not least because a new printer needed to be bought to accommodate the larger signs. However, partnering with suppliers has helped to meet the cost.

“Each of the departmental signs will have a supplier sponsor that is synonymous with the category,” explains Marcus. “The logos are another way customers can recognise each department.”

Marcus says Hyperama’s large warehouses, ranging from 55,000sq ft to 150,000sq ft, can be disconcerting for new customers. He readily admits the warehouses currently have “very little” in the way of signage, but the company’s investment in the new signs indicates the significance it has to the business.
Printing is under way and Marcus hopes to have the Nottingham depot completed in the next 12 weeks, and the whole project finished by Christmas.

“Ultimately, we want to make the shopping experience better and the seemingly little things, like good signs, are what give you your USP. It’s a way to differentiate yourself from your competition,” he says.

Parfetts creates a playlist

Using branding and signage to communicate with customers at the depot is a tactic that Parfetts has used for the past decade, but the company is now planning to exploit advances in technology to take it to the next level. 
Plans for LCD TV screens are under way, with the aim of launching the pilot at the Aintree branch in January, rolling it out across all depots if it’s a success.

Parfetts marketing manager Guy Swindell says the main challenge is to make sure content is engaging and relevant to customers.

“What hasn’t worked in the past is one advert rolling constantly, 12 hours a day,” he says. “It becomes like wallpaper so people pay no attention. We’ve had screens in depots before, but we’ve seen them become redundant and even taken down.”

Parfetts is now exploring what options are available for content. Guy says what he’d like to see is “a multitude of client adverts and our own promotions” on screens in the best locations.

It might sound like a time-consuming endeavour, but modern technology means that whatever is broadcast can be controlled at head office with little effort and no input required at depot level.

“Technology means everything can be done centrally,” says Guy. “There’s no physical media required as suppliers can email their ads to us, then the footage gets played directly from head office into the branches. It’s a bit like creating a playlist.”
A bright, vibrant fleetFor wholesalers operating a cash & carry business, the depot remains the most important area for communicating with customers. Research from Him! found that the most influential method of communicating with retailers is in the depot, with 74% of retailers questioned in the recent survey rating it as “very influential”. Parfetts, for example, has more than 7,000 unique visits across its six depots per week – that’s a lot of footfall and a lot of opportunities for communication.

For delivered wholesalers however, a different approach must be taken and the focus shifts from the inside to the outside of the depot.

SOS Wholesale has a fleet of six lorries that have been branded in the company’s colour scheme, in partnership with Today’s. The distinctive, bright-green trucks are an effective way of getting the brand in front of new customers as they travel the length of the country.

“We get new business from people calling up after seeing the vans on the road,” says managing director Neil Heseltine. “You can work out of the front room but if you put a good image across then people buy into it and believe that you are professional.”

Neil believes it’s an area that is essential for wholesalers to consider. And it doesn’t have to begin with a large-scale piece of activity either. SOS experimented with some branded shirts for employees to wear at a trade show three years’ ago and the use of the brand developed from that point onwards.

Giving some consideration to how the brand is perceived outside the depot is a strategy that cash & carry wholesalers can share with delivered wholesalers. For Northern Irish wholesaler Savage & Whitten, investing in branding for its fleet of 17 trucks has been an invaluable tool. Managing director Mark Windebank says branding the trucks is a demonstration of how the business has grown.

“Three or four years ago, we had 1,000 customers and were secondary wholesalers, so our trucks were plain. Now we have 1,400 customers and a turnover of £60m, which makes us a significant player in the market. We are proud of our brand and we want people to see it,” he says.

The emphasis for Savage & Whitten is less about the company name, though, and more about what it does. The trucks depict some of the stores it serves, along with Today’s branding and a contact number. Mark believes this is a key component of its success.

“I think a lot of people go wrong here and focus on the name, but it doesn’t mean anything to people,” he says. “The name of the business isn’t important but what you do is.”

The company used a local marketing agency to help develop the brand and Mark says it’s important to avoid skimping on cost.

“It takes thought to develop branding and it’s so easy to do it poo of a van if you want to convey a strong, professional image.”

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Lindsay Sharman is a former editor of Retail Newsagent, news editor of Retail Express and account manager in public relations for leading food and drink brands. Lindsay loves anything to do with the arts, including mid-century antiques, and cycles everywhere, even in winter


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