The Good Race

Bestway’s Martin Race is now the company's MD

Bestway’s group trading director Martin Race has a CV spanning three decades in the wholesale industry and he has a wealth of old-school experience to draw on in managing the group’s £2.4bn buying power.

But he has an eye firmly on the future and is planning to grow the business based on three central pillars – club and symbol for retailers, foodservice, and the web and digital opportunity.

The first of those pillars reached a milestone in December, when Bestway’s symbol fascia Best-one cracked the 1,000-member milestone. Race says that while the threat from the major multiples’ convenience offerings is a concern, independents can offer better value and a better range, provided they have the right support from their wholesaler.

“The success of Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local is built on fresh so we’ve got to get much better at fresh,” he says. “But actually I don’t think they’re very good at the other categories, which the independent retailers and club and symbol members can be.

[pull_quote_right]It’s important for wholesalers to nurture their talent properly and make sure they are rewarding their best and brightest [/pull_quote_right]

“Generally, our members have better ranges of alcohol than the multiples – a lot of it’s chilled – and they’re better at impulse, too. If you go into Tesco Express, it’s full of sandwiches and salads. I’m not criticising that stuff, they’re very good at it, but they have a limited range of grocery and a limited range of impulse, and our independents all have better ranges and better prices, truth be told.”

The success of the Bestway’s club and symbol operation is reflected in the consistent double- digit growth of the group’s delivered arm Bestway Direct. “We use a hub system currently, where certain depots, whether they be Bestway or Batleys, do the delivery for them – predominantly because they have special packs and different packs,” he says.

To support its retail members further, Bestway is now in the process of re-launching its own-label range, with most products featuring an on-pack promotion.

One challenge today is migrating to a fully digital offering and Race says a top wholesaler should be able to service its customers through any channel, be it web, mobile app or cash & carry.

“You have to continue to do well what you’ve always done, but you have to be multichannel,” he says.

“So you have to be able to cope with all types of generation. In the old days, people used to love to come to the cash & carry and they know the staff. Lots of people still come for a bit of time out
of the business. I think the worry about the multichannel thing is that younger people are much more into social media – they just want to press a button and order it.”

Bestway is now launching its biggest ever promotional scheme, Core Connect, which it is using online to widen the appeal of, and audience for, retail promotions.

Core Connect offers retailers a minimum 3% rebate on promotional products and applies whether products are purchased online by click & collect, delivered or sold in-depot. Retailers can view their purchases online, where they will be offered a series of extra rebates based on further investment in volume and range deals.

Sixty seconds with Martin

What team do you support? Sunderland.

Who’s your favourite band or singer?
Bruce Springsteen.

What are your hobbies?
Going round the world watching Bruce Springsteen
– I saw him 14 times last year.

What’s your favourite song by The Boss? Badlands.

Your favourite place?
New York, but I like Orlando as well.

Favourite drink?
Cider.

Proudest achievement?
Integration of Batleys into Bestway.

What would you do if you won £1m?
I’d fly to Las Vegas, buy two Lamborghinis, ship ‘em back and spend the rest in a casino.

“We’re one of the few wholesalers who has a transactional website,” says Race.

“We’ve got that, which is good, but we really need to take that to the next level now. We need to mimic what Amazon does – things like ‘customers bought this’, plus better advertising, banner promotions and specific offers.”

Bestway has pursued a strategy of diversification in recent years, with successful forays into pet food (now 10% of Batleys’ business) and delivered, and a strong focus on own-label. But nothing typifies this spirit of expansion like Bestway’s move into foodservice.

Launched in June last year, the foodservice arm has Bellevue Cash and Carry, plus another Scottish business called Martex, which came with some ready-made contracts. The group has since won more contracts in the north and is on the southwards march.

“Our USP in terms of food- service, we believe, is that on one wagon we can deliver everything for the kitchen and everything for the bar,” says Race.

The biggest challenge is being new to the game, because it’s so hard to get people to change their habits – particularly in areas like fresh meat.

“Human nature dictates that if you’re a customer who has been with somebody, you put it out to tender so you can negotiate better prices. Then you think, ‘Is it a risk to go with Bestway or Batleys who are the new boys on the block?’”

Having Martex and some really good testimonials from the likes of Edinburgh Council has been instrumental in winning new business.

“I think foodservice is vital because obviously retail is going to be under pressure on an ongoing basis,” he says.

Investment has been crucial – the group now has its own chilled distribution centre in Coventry and can look at products it has never been able to do before.

“But there are still other parts of the country we could get to yet,” says Race.

“We’re not fully geographically covering every bit of the country, although we’re going from Aberdeen to Plymouth to Southampton to Gillingham.”

In terms of wider challenges facing the industry, Race highlights alcohol duty fraud and the need for minimum pricing to stop the multiples selling spirits at “stupid” prices.

It’s also important for wholesalers to nurture their talent properly and make sure they are rewarding their best and brightest, he says.

“It’s vital to bring people through the business because you need succession planning all the way through. The key to retaining them is treating them right and letting them see there’s some progression.”

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