Follow your customers

Your business will survive if you move with the times, writes Elit Rowland

Change is everything. It’s a process, not an event,” Bill Laird (pictured) told over 225 delegates at the Today’s Group conference in Berlin last month. “The likes of HMV and Blockbuster failed because their customers wanted to transact in different ways but these high-street retailers did not respond.”
Making sure that your business moves with the times and your customers’ changing needs was the key message of the conference, which hosted a number of high-profile speakers, including both suppliers and members.

Guest speaker Sir Terry Leahy, ex-CEO of Tesco, told delegates that the best way to protect your business is to be close to the truth. “Truth comes in at the bottom,” he explained. However, by the time it travels up to senior management level, negatives are cut out. What you’re left with is often “a fairy tale”.

He asked wholesalers whether they really have the structures in place to truly hear what their customers want. “I never worry about business growth. My most reliable guides are my customers – if I follow them, my business will grow.”

Using the platform of the conference, Today’s Group shared how it is rising to the challenge that comes with change. Perhaps the biggest announcement was the launch of Take Stock, a bi-monthly magazine for Today’s foodservice members with a circulation of 50,000 and a six-figure readership that delivers recipe ideas and business advice.

The magazine is sent directly to members, with a personalised label for individual depots – helping wholesale members to offer business support to their foodservice and contract catering ­customers. Matthew Oxley, foodservice director at Today’s Group, said that the foodservice channel continues to flourish.

“The average spend in a cash & carry from a foodservice customer is £508, compared with £274 last year. Couple that with the fact that there are 225,000 eateries in the UK and our members have a massive opportunity.”

To further support foodservice members and their customers, Today’s is also considering discount vouchers. “Voucher codes continue to be popular in restaurants – we are looking at how to deliver similar promotional tools,” said Oxley.

There’s also good news for retailer members, with more own-brand development on the cards. Today’s pledged to increase its range of ‘Essentials’ and ‘Select’ products from 70 to 200 lines by the end of the year.

It is hoped the launch of Mega Deals, also unveiled during the conference, will boost wholesale trade days with a more competitive proposition. Later in the year, retail members can expect more enhanced point-of-sale kits, as well as an updated version of Plan for Profit, Today’s educational tool, which highlights best‑sellers.

Growth of digital media

The growing trend towards web and mobile phone usage among shoppers, including retailers, was a prominent theme at the conference and prompted Today’s to launch its own digital magazine and an updated website at the end of last year. Anita Oakhill, brand marketing manager at Today’s, pointed out that 400 million tweets are sent every day.

Speaking at the conference, she said, “The way people are choosing to conduct business is changing.” And the value of social networking will only continue to grow. “There’s not much being sold on social media but it’s a very influential tool,” added Bill Laird. The challenge for many wholesale members and even a few high-profile suppliers is to develop a social media strategy – in particular, to establish how social media can be turned into a profitable revenue stream. There was also talk of a potential ‘social media forum’ to follow.


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