MD Nick Ramsden talks about how Dee Bee does more by doing less
In a complex business like wholesaling, it can be difficult to keep things simple for your customers and staff, yet still offer great services to drive growth. When Grimsby-based Dee Bee got the chance to return to a depot in Hull that had originally been bought 30 years ago, making sure it was a clean-cut operation was the top priority.
“I wanted to launch Hull with the least complexity possible. It will be a traditional cash & carry at first and then we will build up from there,” says managing director Nick Ramsden.
The 65,000sq ft depot will open its doors on April 28, with heavy promotions kicking off towards the end of May. The move sees the business return to a site his father bought and used as a cash & carry 30 years ago. He eventually sold the business but retained the freehold of the premises and signed a 25-year lease. The company changed hands continuously over the years until the lease eventually expired in November.
Ramsden says: “We were keen to announce something because we heard rumours other wholesalers were looking at Hull. When Booker bought Makro a couple of years ago, they consolidated so there’s now only one cash & carry service there.”
The new depot is the latest in a series of investments Dee Bee has made in recent years to prepare for the challenges ahead for the industry. As well as investing in the office environment, it has also managed to save 20% of its electricity costs by installing solar panels and LED lighting.
“We’re not looking at passing on the effects of the living wage to our customers – they have their own businesses to deal with. We’re looking at trying to reduce costs,” says Nick.
Not being based in a city, the living wage presents a significant challenge to retailers in the area. Another challenge for the wholesaler is the squeeze on price-marked packs (PMPs).
“If our retailers are not here in 10 years, it’ll be because they’ve been driven out of the market by PMPs. When items are price-marked low, it doesn’t give us much margin. We know PMPs work and we’re in favour of them, but there needs to be some serious lobbying by wholesalers for fairer terms,” he says.
Another way that Dee Bee looks after its customers is with Re-Scan, an electronic point-of-sale (EPoS) system it bought 10 years ago.
“It created a huge amount of loyalty and discipline from our customers. All wholesalers are linking up with EPoS, but 10 years ago we were one of the first because we owned it,” he says. The system allows retailers to complete an order around the store in just 10 minutes.
Two years ago, Dee Bee linked up with Savage & Whitten in Northern Ireland and JW Filshill in Scotland, and licensed the software to give them a wider pool of data. The software is now used by 100 customers and Dee Bee is developing an option for forecourt retailers.
Dee Bee’s plans to invest are not ending with the new depot. It has an ambition to grow by a further 15% this year, and it is adding in infrastructure to better supply chilled, a bigger fleet to expand its area and a larger workforce in the long term. The company is also seeing plenty of opportunity from its on-trade and foodservice customers.
Alcohol is a particular passion of his, having worked closely with the previous alcohol buyer for a year after graduating university, eventually taking over when the buyer retired. His grandfather started the company as a retail unit in the 1950s, with his father pioneering Dee Bee Cash & Carry.
“The fact we’re a family business is important,” he says.
“Our strapline is we’re the ‘region’s leading independent wholesaler’ and my dad is still chairman of the group. That’s one of our biggest USPs: we’re trying to be a big small company rather than a small big company.”
Keeping things simple is important to Dee Bee and it is a tried-and-tested formula for success.
“About 10 years ago, we took out the complexity and thought ‘Let’s focus on retail and foodservice,’” he says.