Exclusive insight from an award-winning depot manager who’s even built her employees a garden.
Every business owner you speak to says that great people who engage with the community are the most valuable asset a company can have. But how far would you go? Would you bring coffee to your drivers during an especially early start? Would you build a garden for your staff? Would you ever throw yourself out of a plane to raise money for charity?
That’s all in a day’s work for Julie Tidy, who cites Bidvest Birmingham’s ‘family feel’ as one of the reasons she scooped up the Delivered Depot Manager gong at November’s FWD Gold Medal Awards.
Julie started working for the Bidvest 25 years ago as a business manager; she became general manager in January last year when it decentralised, making each depot more like a mini business.
“We’re now much more prepared and focused,” she says. “We’re only as good as our next delivery so it’s all about service. We live, eat and breathe it.”
Julie keeps her staff focused by empowering them, making them accountable, and also by being transparent. The depot’s profit targets and turnover are displayed around the warehouse and there are plenty of wall displays that show off the achievements of the staff, from charity work to ‘driver of the year’.
There are also several schemes in place to keep the staff invested in what they are doing, such as a bonus if the driver brings back all the cages they go out with.
“Every customer wants our cages, but they cost £85 each so we can’t leave them. If a driver breaks a wing mirror, we tell them how much the repair bill is so they can understand the cost of things,” says Julie.
These initiatives ensure that the depot’s staff – or ‘internal customers’ as Julie describes them – will give the customer better value.
“If the internal customer feels valued, recognised and rewarded, they will give the external customer better service,” she says.
The depot has a social committee that organises rounders and football clubs and hosts a summer barbecue in August. It also gives everyone a gift at Christmas.
The depot’s ambition for the next 12 months is to carry on development plans and continue to identify star performers. Bidvest Birmingham started a programme in January called ‘warehouse to wheels’, which helps warehouse staff who want to become drivers get their qualifications and hit the road.
But Julie doesn’t just ensure that her team is looked after – the depot goes beyond shifting boxes from A to B in a variety of ways.
“We have an advice centre so our field and telesales staff can support customers with recipes and menu ideas. We can also give guidance for a wide range of events such as Mother’s Day, Easter or Yom Kippur,” she says.
The depot offers several services for foodservice businesses, such as kitchen redesigns, catering equipment and hygiene solutions. It keeps regular contact with its customers by assigning a driver, business manager and telesales operator, so that each is backed by a range of experience and knowledge.
Technology is also vital for ensuring great customer service. The depot uses headset voice technology, which ensures a more accurate pick. It has also given the field sales teams smartphones.
“We can track the drivers and they all have in-cab communication,” says Julie. “If a driver is going to be late, we can ring the customer to let them know. If you inform them, they can then prepare.”
The depot hosts events where customers can meet suppliers and warehouse staff, as well as have tours and sample new products.
“We run an annual ‘taste of winter’ event in September,” she says. “We asked customers whether they would prefer to go to a hospitality venue or the depot, but they prefer to come here to have a look round, so we set up a marquee in the car park. At the last one, we had 37 suppliers and 280 customers.”
Bidvest is also making some changes to its own-label range and aiming to drive sales next year to tap into trends and give more value for money to its customers.
“There’s more scratch cooking, too, and customers expect home-made. We do a lot of frozen desserts that customers can defrost and then add toppings and sides to it. It makes it more personal,” she says.
Julie adds that the depot has benefited from a resurgence in the feel-good factor returning to foodservice.
“The biggest opportunities for us now are fast food, tourism, leisure and more premium. People before would go out less often and want more for less,” she adds.
All these things add up to make Julie and the Bidvest Birmingham team a worthy winner of that prestigious gold award.
“I’m very proud to be the leader of this depot, but it’s not my award. It belongs to every member of staff,” she says.
Julie is a firm believer that success is simple. “We innovate and support our people, and exceed our customers’ expectations. We sell baked beans and cheese slices, so let’s not make things complicated.”