With 2020 now out of the way and a clear light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel, industry figures from the wholesale industry make their predictions for the year ahead.
James Bielby, chief executive, FWD: Expect a rocky start to the year as the implications of EU Exit unfold, exacerbated by the continuing Covid restrictions. We expect some disruption in supply and wholesalers need to be prepared for this. Supplier can help by concentrating on core lines and ensuring wholesalers get a fair allocation if there are production shortages. FWD will continue to represent the interests of wholesalers at the very highest levels of Government, and act as the forum for ideas and information exchange within the channel. We will also work on raising the profile of the sector, not only among policy makers, but with suppliers, the media and the public.
Colin Smith, chief executive, Scottish Wholesale Association: As we enter 2021, we do so in the knowledge that life for everyone has changed forever. The wholesale market may be fractured but I’m optimistic that our sector will remain determined and innovative. SWA will help to be a catalyst of this through our forthcoming local sourcing initiatives, training academy and new ‘decarbonisation of the wholesale industry’ project. Wholesalers have supported each other during the pandemic, SWA will support them, and we will continue working closely with other trade associations to fight the industry’s corner. Will we see each other at industry events such as dinners and conferences in 2021? I don’t think we’ll return to the physical events circuit any time soon but technology is a wonderful thing. Some members have already held ‘virtual’ events and exhibitions and we’ve already planned a virtual ‘Heroes of Wholesale’ event in place of our annual Achievers Awards and which we hope to launch in early 2021.
Nobody is through this pandemic but we all face the full uncertainty of the EU exit. With three dry runs under our belt, business has no appetite for preparations for what will be the ‘real deal’ and what looks like a no deal. With concern that food supplies from the EU falling by as much as 55%, Scotland is in a very precarious place, and reliant on both Dover and Cairnryan for our imported food supplies. One thing is sure – we must collaborate with each other, help each other and reach out to those who need support. The coronavirus pandemic has really hit home the importance of working together for the greater good.
Katy Moses, managing director, KAM Media: Everyone was waiting for a ‘new normal’ but 2021 is more likely to be about ‘Covid-acceptance’ which is likely to mean another year of ever-changing goalposts for the industry. As consumers get used to this way of life, they will adapt their behaviour and expectations accordingly. For example, they’ll likely be much less forgiving of customer service failures and poor availability.
In some ways, 2021 may bring more predictability as we’ve ‘seen it all before’ but it will still be those who stay closest to their customers and constantly evolve in response to them, who get through this time- and grow. Our focus at KAM will be to help the industries that we love do exactly that.
Tanya Pepin, co-founder, TWC: It feels as if the economy is in a bubble right now with Government stimulus protecting some consumers and businesses from the inevitable consequences of a struggling economy and the impact of job losses as well as a possible Brexit. This bubble will surely burst and 2021 is likely to be economically tough for many, which will impact operators in our sector in many ways – closures of outlets; for those who remain open, the consumer will have less disposable income so turnover may drop or product mix may change and we are also likely to see changes amongst wholesale operators with businesses shrinking, closing or consolidating. Some who are doing well as a result of increases in retail spend during 2020 are likely to extend and expand into new Channels and others who are struggling but hungry to survive will explore new routes to market and evolve their business.
Category performance is going to evolve for as long as consumer behaviour is affected by Covid-19: less city centre working, more working from home, less overseas travel and more staycations. Covid-19 is driving disruption, which some businesses will view as an opportunity – we should see new products and new business models that arrive to meet new consumer needs and occasions.
Booker will certainly change under new leadership, which will have an impact on everyone, competitors and customers, given their scale – whether it will be a positive or detrimental change is difficult to predict and may well end up being both!