Digital prodigy

JJ Food Service Aston

When a wholesaler embarks on a £160k refurbishment, it’s usually to increase capacity or accommodate a new customer base. But at JJ Food Service’s Aston branch, a three-month makeover was all about improving the customer experience.

The most obvious change at the depot, which first opened in October 2006, is the transformation of the customer ordering area, which has quadrupled in size and features a refreshment area, promotional display cabinets and self-service tablets where customers can order on-site. The refurbishment is part of JJ’s plan to roll out the new customer-friendly format to all its depots. The result is significant online sales growth.

“Last year, we had around 120 click & collect orders per week – now we’re getting considerably more,” explains branch manager Hamid Zamir. Four self-service tablets, positioned next to the customer service helpdesk, are driving 20% of the customers who come to collect their orders to top up their shop when on-site. “We had 118 orders via the tablets just this week,” says Zamir.

Warehouse replenishment and forecasting tools

Prompting customers to buy more can be difficult for a delivered operator, particularly when it doesn’t have the theatre or point-of-sale material offered by a cash & carry. But JJ’s solution is to bring the cash & carry to the customer.

“We put the top items from our weekly promotion into glass display cabinets – it’s the first thing customers see when they come in,” explains Terry Larkin, general manager of the group. “Because the promotions are so competitive, customers have asked us to freeze the prices for longer. So, from January, we’ve extended the offer period to two weeks and have doubled the products on promotion from 30 to 60.”

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Hamid Zamir’s top eight business tips

Invest in predictive technology: Predictive ordering software from Relex has helped the Aston depot to have just one out-of-stock on £400,000 sales in the past week.  

Encourage self-service: Investment in touchscreen monitors is prompting 20% of customers who click & collect to purchase additional items on‑site. 

Show off your deals: JJ brings the theatre of the cash & carry to its customers by highlighting fortnightly deals in glass display cabinets.   

Three gates are better than two: As part of the refurbishment, the Aston depot now has three loading bays instead of two, to help shift products faster. 

Listen to customers: Zamir’s customers asked for a shelter to help them stay dry in the rain – JJ responded by investing in a 38m x 8m canopy as part of the refurbishment.

Keep on counting: Stock lost accounted for £24k of lost revenue last year but Zamir managed to reduce this to just £1.7k by keeping a close count of stock and best-before dates.

Learn from everywhere: Take tips from other high-street retailers – inspired by a trip to H&M, Zamir keeps his depot immaculate with a special broom. 

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But it’s not just promotions that are tempting shoppers. Zamir explains that many of his customers don’t have internet access in their shops, so the customer-friendly store format is helping them to save time and money.

“Some customers would previously have gone to an internet café to place an order. Since the refurbishment, I’ve had customers saying ‘thank you’ for the time we’re saving them.”

Bringing the cash and carry to the customer

While the Aston depot’s refurbishment has got the warehouse looking smart up-front, it’s not the only place where JJ is using technology to grow sales. The site also has a back-office system that helps the business to hit 99% availability.

“Last week, we had nearly £400,000 of sales orders and there was only one ‘out of stock’ scenario. We use a forecasting and warehouse replenishment tool from Relex to help with this,” Zamir says.

Keeping an eye on sell-by dates and CCTV footage, as well as creating internal competition have also helped him to reduce stock loss. “We went from losing around £24k worth of goods to just £1.7k in a year; I definitely hit my personal goal last year.”

While investment in technology and data management is a big part of JJ’s growth strategy, small improvements are also making a big difference, particularly at the Aston depot, where Zamir takes customer feedback seriously.

“Sometimes, we’d have 10 customers standing in about 4m of space – the queue would go out the door. When it rained, the customers would get soaked, so they asked us to build them a shelter,” he recalls. JJ responded by incorporating a 38m x 8m canopy into the refurb.

Customers can now stay dry  and the new refreshment area offers them a place to relax and enjoy a Lavazza coffee, which is selling particularly well. “We serve 500 cups a week at 50p for a perfect espresso or cappuccino,” says Zamir.

hamidIt’s not just customer feedback that helps the business to improve – Zamir also takes inspiration from high-street retailers. Even the smallest things can make a big difference. “I keep our depot immaculate by using a special broom that stops dust from resettling on stock,” says Zamir. “I got the idea when I was shopping in H&M.”

Hamid Zamir is the branch manager of JJ Food Service in Aston. Before his promotion, he was the top salesperson for 60 consecutive months.

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