David Gilroy is the founder and managing director of Store Excel
Leeds Castle in Kent is famous for its outstanding red-beaked black swans. It is a beautiful destination and well worth a visit – especially now that foreign travel is ruled out. However, according to Jim Chappelow a ‘black swan’ is an unpredictable event that is beyond what is normally expected of a situation and has potentially severe consequences.
Black Swan events are characterised by their extreme rarity, their severe impact, and the widespread insistence they were obvious in hindsight. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a finance professor, writer, and former Wall Street trader, popularised the term. I’d not heard of it before the Covid-19 pandemic but it is certainly making an impact now. Someone just put the world economy into a handbrake turn.
No one alive has ever seen such a dramatic impact on social and economic life in peacetime and of course this is being felt across wholesale. Drastic reductions in sales and revenues will cause serious and possibly irreparable damage. There is no defined pathway and everyone is searching for solutions. I see liberation and opportunities ahead.
Flexibility, agility and speed are the keys to survival and we have already seen some brilliant examples of wholesalers pivoting their businesses to attract new trade. JJ Foodservice with their recruitment of over 30,000 new customers in a matter of weeks being one. Community pubs converting into retail stores being another. I have long been an advocate of wholesalers broadening their customer base and selling bulk to all home-working consumers. This group is now growing in number.
The previous definitions of B2B and B2C are gone. We are in a new world of A2A. Anything to anyone. eBay is experiencing record sign-ups as people with small businesses join their platform. Companies are making quick decisions and ramping up customer service. This is evidenced by the exponential increase in deliveries and the rapid scale up of online and app ordering. Many small stores have increased the scale of home deliveries at an incredible speed.
I expect the take up of digital marketing to increase rapidly. This compliments the need for service speed, enables direct contact with the target customer at a lower cost and offers immediate measurable performance results. The days of the one-size fits all printed brochures are coming to an end. As with deliveries we are now seeing small stores using consumer ordering apps to drive their delivered business.
Looking at how wholesalers and brand owners trade with each other, I believe that the time spent by reps visiting depots will diminish or cease altogether. We are learning that video conferencing works very effectively. This is liberating for thousands of business drivers who previously spent hours in cars. Ordering and information exchange is already electronic and any product presentations or sales initiatives can be managed through video link with samples being couriered to the wholesaler in advance as required. Saves time and reduces cost.
Applying flexible thinking, there appears to be a new approach towards collaboration. Companies that were in competition with each other are now seeking ways to work together for the common good. I have seen trading partnerships rapidly created that would have previously taken months to sign off – if at all.
There are many more upsides too numerous to mention in this short article. We are living in tough times and the road ahead will be rocky. I choose liberation over devastation.