Deals, discipline and data

    QUESTION TIME brings together wholesalers and suppliers to ask how the channel can collaborate to promote best practice and grow sales

    Kicking off this issue’s Question Time, channel-champion Boost Drinks and the FWD’s James Bielby join Better Wholesaling to discuss the importance of promotions, compliance and data.

    James Bielby, chief executive, FWD
    James Bielby, chief
    executive, FWD
    Elit Rowland, editor,
    Better Wholesaling
    Simon Gray, managing director, Boost Drinks
    Simon Gray, managing
    director, Boost Drinks

    JAMES: How has working in wholesale added value to your brand?

    SIMON: It’s allowed us to have a clear, focused strategy and to preserve our competitive pricing. The channel also offers us great opportunities to get closer to retailers – we regularly get involved in wholesaler seminars and conferences, which has helped us to raise our profile. Our business development director, Al Gunn, spoke at a recent Bestway seminar – he got some great feedback from retailers and came out feeling like a celebrity.

    What are Boost’s plans for reaching new sectors?

    We’re interested in export, foodservice and forecourts. With foodservice, the opportunity is mainly with pubs, clubs and cafés. But forecourts present a particularly interesting area as we’re the only energy brand with a re-sealable 500ml bottle – so there’s a lot to shoot for.

    How do you rate ­compliance in independent retail?

    Some independent retailers want to do their own thing – they will buy in at a promotion and not sell out at it, which can be frustrating for suppliers.

    I often hear from suppliers that the quality of supermarkets’ promotional execution is much better and is the benchmark for our channel. Take Tesco, for instance. When a supplier sells a deal into Tesco, it gets rolled out in a uniform way across all the stores and suppliers can see a good return in the sales figures.

    If you take the same volume to the independent channel, some wholesalers and retailers will pass it on, but some won’t. The result is that suppliers end up with quite distorted figures.

    So what’s the best way to improve compliance?

    I would urge wholesalers and retailers to take more advantage of deals. We’re in a difficult trading time and although locality gives independents a good advantage, there’s an opportunity to maximise the potential of your business by doing more with deals. Retail clubs and symbol groups enjoy much better compliance rates – investment in these areas is definitely the way forward.

    Where can whole­salers ­improve?

    Wholesalers and retailers need to up their games more than ever before – whether it means retailers joining a fascia or wholesalers joining a buying group. We think it’s critical for wholesalers to ensure that product recommendations are based on what the best sellers really are, rather than on which suppliers have invested the most into their businesses. It’s critical to think about what’s right for the ­marketplace.

    What’s the best thing about  wholesale?

    I’ve heard that when you work with the multiples, you never get a ‘win-win’ situation – people can end up in tears. Buyers also tend to change quite a lot, which can make it difficult to build ­relationships.

    With wholesalers, it feels more like you’re working together. I consider many of my wholesale partners to be family friends.

    ELIT: How are you using data to help wholesalers to grow sales?

    SIMON: Historically, we’ve just looked at data to benchmark ourselves against competitors, but now we’re planning to be more proactive. It’s become very easy to pull data together and put it in front of a depot manager to show the gaps and ­opportunities.

    We will be using this data to target non-stockers with promotions and other ­incentives.

    With the rise of own-label brands, how will you secure long-term success?

    Own-label brands are not growing at the rate they were. Over the past few years, there’s been a plethora of new volume at the bottom end of the market. It’s dragging volume and value from other tiers of the category and also forcing the big, branded suppliers to reduce prices, so it has a double-whammy effect. The bottom end of the category has a genuine role to play but it’s important to remember that we offer wholesalers and retailers far more cash margin than these ­products.

    Should wholesalers be doing more to support their customers with digital media?

    If I was a wholesaler, I’d want to be as joined up as possible with my retailers – so offering help with digital media is a great way to drive loyalty, especially if you’ve got the time and resources. What the sector is lacking at the moment is ‘digital police’ – with social media, people don’t get any training and just go in like mavericks. I think there’s a good opportunity for larger wholesalers and buying groups to offer members this kind of training, such as a one-day course or an easy-to-use guide or starter pack.

    How can other suppliers better support the channel?

    Suppliers should spend more time in-depot understanding the channel. It’s not just about how much you’ve spent on TV advertising; suppliers need to understand the needs of wholesalers, whether it’s about more price-marked packs or smaller case sizes. Our sales guys love working in the channel – this isn’t a stepping stone for them.

    Have you had much interest from the multiple retailers and how have you responded?

    We get enquiries from many different types of businesses. Although we pride ourselves on having a focused, channel-specific strategy, it’s not necessarily set in stone. Opportunities come at us all the time but we have to think whether they’re right, whether we have the infrastructure to deliver and, ultimately, how close they will get us to becoming a household name in the UK.



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