How can wholesale attract and retain young talent?

Wholesale has gone from ‘zero to hero’ according to some suppliers at last week’s IGD Wholesaling 2013 conference, but is the sector attracting enough talent from the next generation? Elit Rowland reports  

The IGD conference, which brought together the likes of Booker, Costco, Palmer & Harvey and Landmark (to name a few), did a good job of showing off the strengths of the channel’s strongest operators.

You could say that the mission of the conference was timely, with many suppliers scaling down on resources. One national account manager told me during the coffee break that he used to look after the Booker account but in recent months, due to restructuring, he was also handed responsibility for Today’s and Landmark.

But wholesale presents an attractive package for suppliers, as Heinz category manager Simon Digby pointed out: “Wholesale has gone from zero to hero… it’s attracting a lot of talent”, he said, adding that wholesale is seen as ‘low risk’ and presents great opportunities for youngsters looking to get into impulse and convenience. “Wholesale is the sexiest part of our business and people are clamouring to join it.”

However, the challenge is not just about getting people in – it’s about retaining them. Bill Laird put it well when he told delegates: “We want young talent but they need to be in it for the long term. Suppliers shouldn’t see the multiples as the be all and end all.”

The Scottish Wholesale Association has the right idea with its Scottish Wholesale Achievers mentoring scheme, which buddies up new industry entrants with more experienced personnel. Should something similar happen in England? I’m sure it would be popular.

Another consideration, which I was reluctant to throw to the testosterone-pumped arena during a panel discussion, is whether wholesale is attracting enough women.

In an interview with Britvic last month, Clare Bocking made a good point when she questioned whether the talent in wholesale reflects the customers it serves. “There is a male-bias in wholesale, but there’s a lot we can do as an industry to be attractive to a greater diversity of people.”

It’s true, the females in wholesale and convenience are few and far between but the ones around are setting a good precedent: Kate Salmon (SWA), Debbie Robinson (Spar), Louise Birchall (Birchall Foodservice) and Anshu Shandra (United Wholesale), whom I have met in the past six months, are all shrewd, passionate businesswomen that give new entrants a lot to aspire to.

You can read our write-up of the IGD Wholesaling 2013 conference in the next issue of Better Wholesaling – out on October 3rd 2013



  1. Well put Simon – I wish you had the opportunity to present, but I guess you already spoke at the FWD conference (your presentation was brilliant by the way). I’ve been thinking about running something on females in wholesale for a while but haven’t decided on the right approach yet… Could be tricky! Great to hear from you though. Keep those comments coming 🙂

  2. There are many ways to attract and retain talent young and not so young!
    Wholesale is an exciting, fast paced and fun industry to be in where no two days are the same, we deal with the biggest brands in the world and have the most passionate customers – how many other industries can claim that?
    Providing staff with empowerment, knowledge, opportunity and respect is the way to retain staff in any industry, but ensuring all staff feel part of the companies success, culture and future is invaluable. the wholesalers who do that have a very small staff turnover for a reason.

    There are hundreds or even thousands of talented women in wholesale who provide all sorts of skills and ensure that wholesale companies continue to function. Just because they are not supplier and trade facing it doesn’t mean they are not here, so I don’t agree with the male bias comments from Clare.

    Why not run a feature and come out and meet some of them?!


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