Wholesaler Spotlight: Making the grade

Birchall Foodservice is developing a grade-A fleet by scoring drivers, writes ELIT ROWLAND

Are your drivers too fast and furious? If so, it could be eating into your sales. Not only is reckless driving the cause of costly wear and tear on vehicles, it also damages stock. But one wholesaler is benefitting from a no-nonsense approach.

“All our drivers are monitored with our new telematics software, which grades them ‘A’ to ‘G’,” explains Justin Birchall, director of the Burnley-based Birchall Foodservice.

The program monitors drivers using data such as harsh braking and ­acceleration. “It teaches drivers to think more carefully about what they are doing,” says Birchall.
The scheme has introduced a healthy level of competition between the drivers and is delivering fast results.

“One of our drivers scored an ‘E’ because he’d been stamping on the brake. But when we spoke with him about his personal report, the next day he scored a ‘D’. That’s a big improvement for a single day,” says Birchall. “Plus, it brings down our insurance premiums, too.”

But the process doesn’t stop when drivers get an ‘A’ – the technology enables users to move the benchmark to allow constant progress. “Once a driver gets an ‘A’, you can still go in and reset it so that he or she continues to develop and improve.”

Telematics has also enabled the wholesaler to make big savings on potentially costly issues with their larger ‘trunkers’, which deliver to the smaller vehicles ­overnight.



  • BENCHMARK PERFORMANCE: Improving driving skills can prevent damage to vehicles and stock. Give your team goals to work towards to save you money and help them to develop valuable skills.
  • PUT TELESALES ON THE ROAD: Go the extra mile with customer service by arranging for telesales staff to spend a day on the road with drivers, giving your key customers ‘face time’ at least twice year.
  • INVEST IN TECHNOLOGY: Engine idling accounted for 88 hours in just a week for Birchall Foodservice – but investment in telematics software identified the problem and cut those hours by more than half.
  • GIVE CUSTOMERS ADDED VALUE: Caterers need access to nutritional tools that will help them to devise calorie-controlled menus and recipe ideas. Ask your suppliers how they can help.
  • PICK THE RIGHT ONLINE REPORTS: Think about what your customers want – some of your products, such as catering equipment, might be more successful online than others.


“One of our trunkers had been idling for seven and a half hours,” explains group sales director Louise Birchall. “The software generated an overall report, letting us know that a total of 88 hours of idling had gone on in a week.”

But since the introduction of the new software, idling is down to 34 hours per week. “This will save us a lot of fuel and costs,” she says. “True information on our vehicles is very valuable to our business, especially when independent customers have huge service-level demands we need to match. You can wipe away years of hard work with a single delivery that goes wrong.”

Customer service with a difference

While technology is being used to promote better skills and avoid costly errors, it’s also helping the group’s telesales staff to deliver customer service with a ­difference.

“Every delivered wholesaler has customer records but we make ours personal to give our telesales staff a good connection: for instance, we note family births and other events. Good relationships with our customers are key.”

But the wholesaler doesn’t rely entirely on computers and technology to build relationships. “Our telesales staff go out twice a year to visit customers and give them some face-time, which helps develop and maintain connections,” she adds. “They will stay on location and spend the whole day in a van.”

With drivers and telesales staff often referred to as the ‘face’ and ‘voice’ of a delivered wholesale business respectively, getting customer service right at this level is critical.

“If customers aren’t offering your drivers tea, coffee or a sausage butty, the drivers must be doing something wrong,” says Justin Birchall.

But good service is also about offering customers the tools they need to compete in a challenging market. As a member of the Country Range Group, Birchall offers customers access to its K2N nutritional calculator and Stir It Up, a monthly magazine distributed to customers that is packed with news, features, recipe ideas and food trends.

Naturally, doing things right has seen the wholesalers’ business grow and, in the past year, it has expanded its depot by 9,000sq ft with a ‘bolt-on’ extension.

“It’s environmentally friendly and only a third of the price of a permanent solution,” explains Louise Birchall. “It also means we don’t spoil the original infrastructure if we move into bigger premises.”

Building the business layer by layer is helping it to grow organically and robustly. According to MD Colin Birchall, this will ensure long-term success.

“If you copy your competitors, you’ll make the same mistakes,” he says. “Focus on one thing at a time and, eventually, all those built-up layers become a fantastic package that no-one else can compete with.”



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