Fukhera Khalid tells Tan parsons how he is investing in booze, banqueting and Bollywood.
An off-licence depot in south London is probably not the first place you would look to find film stars, pop singers and sports heroes. But then again, Elbrook Cash & Carry is not your average wholesaler. Since the Mitcham-based business joined the Today’s buying group in 2010, managing director Fukhera Khalid has been working hard to increase its profile.
Fast Elbrook facts:
55,000 sq ft depot size
Buying group: Today’s Group
Location: Mitcham, south London
151 special formats
15 customers using click & collect
Founded in 1984
Former world champion boxer David Haye is a personal friend and along with the likes of rapper Professor Green and Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul, he supports Elbrook’s annual charity gala dinners.
“I think what the celebrity connection does is it gives suppliers a better idea of who we are and what we do,” says Khalid.
“It’s a family business and we used to keep ourselves to ourselves. But if people know nothing about you, they assume you’ve got something to hide.”
In any case, the cat is now well and truly out of the bag. After starting out almost 30 years ago in a 10,000sq ft depot in Stratford, the wholesaler has grown turnover to £143m and has a thriving export business. In 2013 Elbrook was ranked ninth in the Sunday Times International Track 200, which measures Britain’s private companies with the fastest-growing international sales.
Where Elbrook succeeds is by specialising in booze. As well as the core, fast-moving lines, there are also premium brands, such as AnCnoc Rutter and Bruichladdich whiskies, and unusual formats, such as 15l bottles of champagne. No wholesalers nearby stock these products and they bring in customers from not just south London, but also Tonbridge in Kent and Brighton on the south coast.
“One of the things I believe in 100% is that whatever you do, you need to specialise,” says Khalid.
With the emphasis firmly on alcohol, there are no grocery lines stocked here. But that makes the depot attractive to customers, because they can be in and out much faster.
“If you ever go to a grocery cash & carry, there’s everything there, but you will be queuing up for hours,” he says.
“One thing people know is that when they come to us, they are in and out very quickly. We have the variety and with a lot of people now going upmarket, we’ve got a lot of better quality wines, spirits, unusual sizes – you name it. Anything that they want, that’s what we’ve got.”
The depot also offers a click & collect service, which is part of the drive to give top rate customer service.
The focus on licensed goods was what led Khalid to join Today’s in 2010. He felt the group had the right kind of London-centred promotions to suit his customers.
60 seconds with Fukhera
Which team do you support? The best team in London – Chelsea.
Favourite meal? I’m a fish and chips guy.
Favourite music? Bollywood singers Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi.
Do you have time for any hobbies? I play five-a-side football every Monday.
What’s your favourite place? Home – London, where my wife and kids are.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned? Keep your feet on the ground and respect people, whether their business is worth a million pounds or one pound.
“I’ll give you an example – we sell loads of Foster’s and Kronenbourg, whereas in the Midlands it’s more Carling,” he says.
“It’s just simple things like that – I felt their promotions were stronger
on those brands.”
Elbrook’s readiness to adapt and change strategy is evident in its restaurant and banquet hall business Chak89. Although the group does not currently offer foodservice in wholesale, it does supply the likes of Asda, so Khalid knows exactly how suppliers feel when they have to sit in front of the supermarkets.
“The reality is that I don’t know whether there’s going to be a need for cash & carry in 20 years’ time,” he says.
“There probably will be but will we be able to afford to run them?”
He is worried about the net effect of the multiples’ c‑stores on independent retailers. And this is why Elbrook has invested in the Chak89 restaurant – the company feels that it’s a market in which people have got more money to spend.
“At the end of the day, if someone’s going to get married, they get married. That doesn’t stop. And budget-wise, people are spending a lot more now. When I got married 25 years ago, you hired a school hall. I was at a wedding the other day at Park Plaza and the person getting married must’ve spent in excess of 100k.
“That’s the market we’re in and if we can do the food and decorations and things like that then that’s not too bad.”
As part of the plan to expand the banqueting business, Elbrook bought a film studio in Hayes, aiming to transform it into another food hall. With a large Asian population nearby in Southall Broadway, the demand for traditional wedding banquets was likely to be high. It was a perfect location. However, despite much hard work, planning permission for a change of use was not granted and so it remained a film studio.
But this apparent bad luck has turned into a blessing. “It just so happens it’s a great time to have a film studio,” says Khalid.
To bring cash into the country, the government has relaxed tax laws for films made in the UK and as a result, a lot of American and Bollywood productions are currently being filmed here. With Pinewood and Shepperton studios busy filming the new Star Wars films, independent operators are in demand.
“It’s buoyant at the moment,” says Khalid.
With interests in booze, banquet halls and now the film industry, it feels as though one way or another, Elbrook has staked its claim on the future of the wholesale industry, however it develops over the next 20 years.