Tan Parsons speaks to Bestway’s Muhammad Asad about the opportunities for young talent in wholesale
It has been quite a year for Muhammad Asad. In just eight months as general manager of Bestway’s Barking depot in Essex, he has made a huge splash. Like-for-like sales have improved by double-digit figures in almost all of the past seven months. At the Federation of Wholesale Distributors’ Gold Awards ceremony, the 30-year-old picked up the Young Wholesaler of the Year gong, with the judges praising his ‘entrepreneurial flair’.
BW: What’s the best decision you’ve made for the business?
MA: The thing that was a milestone in my progress was getting involved in re-merchandising the non-food departments in one of Bestway’s branches. It involved developing the layout and category management techniques that have been rolled out across the whole of the business.
Over the past seven months, I’ve personally been involved in speaking to customers at our Barking depot face-to-face, asking what they want and explaining the good value offered on a total basket shop compared with our immediate competitors.
BW: Has it made much of a difference?
MA: Yes, the depot has seen double-digit growth in like-for-like sales almost every month. Sometimes people think our competitors are cheaper but since we have started talking to customers face-to-face, instead of relying on promotional leaflets, the majority have started coming back in to us.
I believe in the saying: ‘Customer satisfaction is worthless but customer loyalty is priceless.’ It’s about getting them to understand the overall basket-spend rather than looking at single items on promotion.
BW: A lot of people use wholesaling as a stepping stone to jobs with the multiple retailers. What has attracted you to stay in wholesale?
MA: I have been working in wholesale for more than 13 years now. I joined Bestway on my 16th birthday and worked part-time while separately studying computer communication and networking. Wholesale presents a lot of opportunities for skilled people with positive attitudes. They can go far. The best part of my job is dealing with challenges and competition – it gives you brilliant motivation to meet your targets.
BW: How can the wholesale industry attract more young talent?
MA: I developed my career at Bestway by joining its graduate scheme – it’s a really good way to attract young, skilled people. But the big problem for wholesale is retaining young talent, not attracting it. There need to be more opportunities for young people, to attract them to have a long-term career in wholesale.
BW: Barking is a very competitive area for wholesalers. What makes your depot stand out?
MA: We have the widest range and cheapest prices in the market. It’s our range and facilities that stand out compared with our 30-odd competitors on the same road. We compete well in almost all departments. The biggest challenge is maintaining this, while adding new products and working out what to delist.
BW: Lots of wholesalers were doing huge discount promotions on their own-brand lines in January. How can retailers deal with the saturation of own-label promotions?
MA: It’s the quality of our own-brand products that we are proudest of. We tell all our retailers that if the product does not sell, they can bring it back for a full refund. We are confident that if retailers put our own-label on their shelves, it will definitely get sold.
BW: Exports account for 15% of your business. Where do these products end up?
MA: Our exports mainly go to Ghana, but also some other places, particularly Karachi in Pakistan. There is a huge market but it can be inconsistent when you try to compare demand with the previous year. The biggest challenge with our export business is availability – export customers might want hundreds of cases for next week. Normally, our suppliers give us help to achieve this but if it’s not possible, we can pick up the stock from neighbouring Bestway depots.
BW: How important is technology to your business?
MA: Technology has become an essential part of our personal and professional life, and it’s vital in getting orders in on time from the suppliers. Wholesalers without technology simply won’t survive.
BW: What is the biggest challenge you are facing currently?
MA: We are still in a recession and people do not have that much extra money to spend. Aside from that, the big challenge is competition from the multiples. Tesco and Sainsbury’s are going into high streets and that’s affecting a lot of our local retailers.
BW: What opportunities do you see in the next six months?
MA: For us the opportunity is keeping up the momentum of growth we’ve seen in the past few months. Much of the growth we are seeing is coming from existing customers, which proves the strategy is working. It also means there is a huge untapped opportunity for new business.
BW: What advice would you give to other young wholesalers?
MA: Stay in the industry and find the opportunities in your business – you will develop your career to a high level if you have true potential and a positive attitude towards success. Treat your competition as a tool to help you grow because only competition will develop your skills. No competition means no challenge, and no challenge means less chance to explore your true talent.