As we approach the end of a difficult year, Paul Hill speaks to leading figures at wholesale companies to find out what they’ve learnt from this unique 12 months:
Paul Hargreaves, chief executive, Cotswold Fayre: We have had a year like no other with growth of 45% since March with our chilled offering growing even higher than that around 70%. One challenge has been keeping all our 3,500 lines in stock, but after testing times in March and April, our fulfilment levels have been back to 95% plus levels since then. Local and shopping is well and truly back and consumers are buying more from their local shops as well as visiting them more often. I have learned that we can be just as effective with the office team working at home in terms of productivity, yet that it is also valuable to have time together in one place, particularly for the new starters. When government advice permits we plan to move to a 50:50 office: homework pattern for everyone.
Derek O’Reilly, managing director, O’Reilly’s Wholesale: Here at O’Reilly’s we have been very fortunate to not only maintain but grow our turnover this current difficult year. Our wholesale portfolio is diverse and varied and we were therefore best placed to provide the very necessary and highly in demand grocery, household and cleaning products throughout the lockdown. As the country moves away from the extremes of lockdown (though highly aware we could be back here) we see that cleanliness remains top priority for consumers and also the need to provide treats for ourselves at home. To that end O’Reilly’s are in the process of developing a new B2C platform to service consumers directly, in parallel to our retail customers.
Dawood Pervez, managing director, Bestway Wholesale: As the entire industry will agree, 2020 has been unprecedented, unexpected, and unpredictable alongside changing consumer buying behaviours brought about through Covid. And, we have seen swings and roundabouts in trading. Key factors for us include elements such as the fact that cash and carry filled a gap that was not able to be serviced through delivered services, and although we have made gains in most categories/markets – particularly across grocery – we have had to balance this against decline in others, especially foodservice channels. Certainly, supplier/wholesaler relationships have been tested against supply shortcomings and of course, consumer panic-buying impacted heavily on the supply chain. We have learned that preparing for the unexpected and ensuring fair distribution on the back of crisis is the way forward.
Colin McLean, chief executive, C J Lang: “We have probably seen more change in the past seven months than our business had delivered in many, many years. Our staff and customers have coped incredibly well and I would like to thank them for their continued efforts supporting our Scottish communities. During the early stages of the pandemic we were able to react very quickly, with our number one focus on the health and safety of our staff, retailers and customers. Our retailers knew they could depend on us during the pandemic and most importantly our supply chain and customer product availability has continued to hold up throughout the ongoing crisis.”
Andy Morisson, Dee Bee Wholesale, trading director: “It’s been a challenging year for the whole sector, depending very much on the customer base you serve! Dee Bee has a significant on trade business, which stopped on 23rd March, but our retail business, including our company owned stores, have benefited hugely from the consumer move to convenience. We have faced the challenge of losing our on-trade volume, alongside the challenge of having to maintain availability and customer service to our retail base. Whilst it’s been a challenge, the Dee Bee team have risen too it, and like many others have had to adapt to the situation with remote working, long hours and creative thinking to solve the issues. Stock availability has been difficult, and in places underlined how short the supply chains are, and we have learnt from this to spread our supply base wider – finding some new suppliers in the process.
Debbie Harrison, trading director, Pricecheck: “Pricecheck has been built on an ability to quickly adapt to changing demands and challenges. This year’s events have really shown us how important it is that flexibility remains a core business strength. We’ve survived floods, recessions and pandemics and it’s our capacity to remain flexible which has seen us through these times. Above anything else, we are so proud of our team this year. They have shown the Pricecheck spirit in abundance which has enabled us to continue our growth. This saw us achieve our five-year target of £100m turnover, the need to expand our warehouse operations with an additional site and welcome 90 new starters since the start of the year.