Five things we learned at IGD Wholesaling 2017

Booker's Colm Johnson on the problems the wholesaler is experiencing with availability

Better Wholesaling joined scores of leading wholesalers and suppliers in attendance at this year’s IGD Wholesaling 2017 conference in London. Here are five things we learned from this year’s thought-provoking event.

1. The three biggest challenges facing wholesale are…

The three biggest challenges facing the industry, according to the IGD’s chief economist James Walton, are: profitability, which ties in with Brexit and labour cost concerns; fighting for food authority against so-called specialists, incorporating the need to compete on range in addition to products and price; and the speed of movement, with wholesalers needing to ensure they are at the cutting-edge of technology.

2. Wholesalers, don’t make us a ‘mini me’

Paul Baxter, chief executive of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN), issued a rallying cry to wholesalers: “My challenge to you,” he told delegates, “is that you can’t trim our ranges. You can’t make us a ‘mini me’. Consumers want choice.” Wholesale expert David Gilroy, managing director of consultancy Store Excel, echoed this sentiment later on in the day when he said that although core range drives business, a way for smaller wholesalers to stand out from the crowd is by focusing on “new, exciting and different”.

3. NPD vs core range

Despite Baxter’s words, Colm Johnson, impulse trading director at Booker Wholesale, told delegates: “There can be too much talk about NPD. But core range needs to be the first conversation.” The wholesaler has launched a scheme called ‘Core in every store’, which has involved low prices on essential items such as milk, bread and sugar. Sales on these products have shot up by 166%, 200% and 50%, respectively, as a result.

4. Availability is a serious problem

NFRN’s Baxter, Booker’s Johnson, Bestway symbol development director James Hall and Palmer & Harvey managing director Martyn Ward all referenced problems their businesses (or members, in the case of Baxter) are experiencing at present due to availability problems from manufacturers. Baxter said: “Availability is poorer than ever.” Johnson noted: “Availability isn’t a key focus for suppliers – I’ve effectively become a supply chain manager.” Hall said: “Ensuring 100% availability is the thing that keeps us up at night.” And Ward added: “Availability has been as bad as it has been for a fair while.”

5. How to make the most of diversification

Simon Hannah, managing director of wholesaler JW Filshill, discussed the measures he has taken to ensure that the family business didn’t have all its eggs in one basket. Among the ventures Hannah supports beyond the traditional wholesale business are The Craft Beer Clan of Scotland, which exports Scottish craft beer across the world, and which has recently made key appointments to try and crack the Asian market,, an online retailer of craft beer and spirits, and Brewgooder, a beer brand produced in partnership with Brewdog, with the profits going towards clean water projects in deprived nations.


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