Jack of all trades: Khanjra signs up 10 suppliers a week to secure wide customer base

So how does managing director Altaf Khanjra deal with these two diverse channels?

Who says you can’t be all things to all people? While some businesses choose to focus on either retail or foodservice, Blackburn’s Khanjra International Foods, a proud member of Today’s Group, is taking on at least 10 new suppliers a week to make sure it can cater for the needs of both customer bases.

“If someone’s come into your depot for one particular item, why not offer them everything else they need?” he asks. “After all, the big retailers offer everything from cars to funerals.”

While this wholesaler has no intention of branching out into mortgages or insurance, the new £8m, 70,000sq ft depot, which officially opened last year, has been carefully designed by Khanjra to make it easy for both retailers and caterers to navigate. A dedicated catering aisle, still in progress, lists key categories in alphabetical order, while the remaining aisles targeting retailers are clearly numbered and labelled by category.

“We’ve had customers coming to us from Makro and Booker because they say our depot is so clean, well merchandised and covers all their needs under one roof,” says Khanjra, who has gone the extra mile to make his depot stand out from the crowd. “As an independent, you have to do something different. You have to create a ‘wow ­factor’.”

The 2.5m drop by 1.2m wide chandelier at the entrance of the depot certainly does just that. “We bought the chandelier and a lot of our other furniture from Italy and Spain to give our depot a unique sense of style.”

While the prospect of catering for the diverse needs of foodservice customers may seem daunting to some, Khanjra is succeeding with a simple rule: base your business offering around what your customers want.

“Our customers regularly ask us for things that we don’t have. And once we get the products in, they convert to using us 100% of the time – and they are grateful for the time we save them.”

Khanjra even invites customers who use a variety of different wholesalers to submit their shopping lists. If there’s anything on it that the company doesn’t have, Khanjra gets on the case.

“One particular customer told me that we only had 80% of the items on his list. I asked him to leave it with me.

“Three weeks and 14 supplier-meetings later, we were stocking everything he needed and we secured a new ­customer.”

Although the Blackburn-based business works with many mainstream suppliers, moving with the market is critical, he explains.

“If you don’t give customers what they want, someone else will move in and take your business.”

And the one-stop shop approach is proving popular with the locals.

“It might not work in London or Newcastle, but we know it works here,” says Khanjra. “People want more value, better service and to get everything in one place.”

To make sure that the wholesaler can really cover all bases, Khanjra also has a dedicated catering equipment section which covers everything from cutlery and plates to stock pots and baking pans big enough to feed an army.

“Catering is one of our fastest-growing sectors.”

In addition to responding to customer requests, Khanjra has invested in focused field sales reps to introduce new business to the group.

“There are lots of businesses advertising their services out there, but unless you speak with them, how do they know who’s good and who isn’t? We put our trust in face-to-face contact.”

The business currently has around 2,000 retail customers and 2,000 caterers and is finalising a few cosmetic details before activating its marketing plans.

“There are more people we haven’t spoken with yet – but that’s going to change,” says Khanjra. “We’ve got the range in, the chandeliers are up and we’re almost ready to start shouting.”

Six questions for your business 

  • What’s your ‘wow factor’? Khanjra has a 2.5m drop by 1.2m wide chandelier imported from Italy that gives the depot a unique point of difference and is a fantastic way to impress customers as soon as they walk in.
  • Don’t forget catering equipment Equipment is important to caterers and Khanjra dedicates a significant amount of floor space to this, covering everything from wooden spoons to 18l steel stockpots.  
  • Is your signage clear enough? 80% of retailers agree that they want to get in and out of a cash & carry as quickly as possible. Signage becomes even more important when you need to push a diverse customer base towards different categories. 
  • Do you stock 100% of your customers’ needs? Khanjra is taking on up to 10 new suppliers a week to ensure it can be a one-stop shop for a wide customer base. Is there value in diversifying your supplier base?  
  • How often to do you speak with your customers? Khanjra spends most of his time on the shop floor finding out from customers how the business can inspire greater loyalty. 
  • Should your field sales reps be more focused? One size doesn’t fit all, particularly when working with foodservice customers. Khanjra has different field sales reps allocated to key catering categories.

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