James Russell on trying to find the ‘key ask’ in order to improve the way wholesalers and suppliers operate

The Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) provides many fantastic services on behalf of the wholesale industry – both as a voice within Westminster for members and member interests, but also when it comes to raising awareness for the industry in general.

On 25 October, the body ran an Introduction to Wholesale event for suppliers, partners and other members who are new to the industry, and this is one of several such events the FWD runs each year. They are a fantastic opportunity for the new members of our wholesaling community to come together, network and, most importantly, to start to build a solid grounding of both the issues and opportunities for us to work on together as an industry.

Having been given the opportunity to present at the session, I took some time to think about what the messages I delivered would be, and, crucially, about what my ‘key ask’ would be.

I mapped out much of what any other wholesaler would say, which boiled down to these three points:

1. Our market model is simple – we are the supply chain to small business, we add value by improving efficiencies, but we also destroy it by adding complexity.

2. The market is changing – we know that our market is evolving, and it is significantly different now to 10 years ago, and will look vastly different again in 10 years’ time. But as an industry, we will continue to grow.

3. Wholesale is a great place to work – suppliers and wholesalers are both in the position where they can create change and make things happen.

All blindingly obvious and no new news there – so, what is my big ask? I could argue the point for improved shared margin and headline price on pricemarked packs, better product life, stronger commitment to range rationalisation and a broader adoption of common category principals – but that would not be the thing that makes the biggest difference.

I was bought up in a world of retail where we always strove to put the product at the risk of being sold – “we do not sell air”, I was constantly reminded. At its heart, this is the first step in any ‘make, market, sell’ plan. Judging by some of the noise in the trade press recently, maybe there is some room for upside here.

Across total FMCG, we are rightly focused on efficiency, cost and cash.  With the upstream and downstream supply chain constantly being re-optimised to boost stock turn and decrease waste, the question is have we evolved the way we work together at the same pace as we have evolved the model?

Wholesalers are a critical part of the mix. We position ourselves as the storage room for our customers, and play a valuable role by acting as a buffer in the supply chain. We see the benefits every day with retailers coming to our depots. Within our business, our supply team is passionate about service, measuring daily outbound service levels, promotional availability and on-shelf availability of our key lines, knowing that this is the difference that makes the difference.

So, back to the challenge – as suppliers and wholesalers, we must make it a focus to work closer together, understand better, and face into our challenges faster – and, ultimately, put the product at the risk of being sold!

James Russell


James Russell is managing director at Blakemore Wholesale


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