The opportunity in wholesale

Suppliers need to wake up and smell the opportunity in wholesale; reality suggests we can all do better, says Simon Digby

There is a massive opportunity staring you in the face if you can just step back and take the time to recognise it. You all know that the convenience market is growing faster than the rest of the grocery industry and that, by inference, means that the route to market is in rude health also.

How many of you have recognised this and have really acted on it? How many of you have created the strategies and tactics to take advantage?

I’ll bet that you could talk a good game and convince yourself that you’re doing a great job. Wholesaling reality would suggest we can all do better.

Here are some simple ideas, which if executed with conviction, can capitalise on the growth in the channel.

Make it the place to be:

The wholesaling industry has gone from being a backwater where management was afraid to tread to being the sexiest area of the business, with people clamouring to join and build their careers. Give the young talent who works in the backroom a cash & carry account to visit – one where the risk-profile is low. Have a national account manager oversee and coach them. This will give you two individuals delivering incremental volumes, building their skill sets and looking for bigger challenges.

Shift your assets:

Align and educate the top of your business with your growth mindset – fight for the area and make sure that you get comparable deals to the multiples. You can deliver great growth figures, but don’t fall for the phone calls telling you that the troops in the Middle East are crying out for your products and that a massive discount will secure a huge, safe, exported, volume sale. It just won’t.

Pack it in:

Get the correct sizes of packs into the channel: fours and sixes, not 24s or – God forbid – 48s. Price-mark the core range and offer a decent shared margin.

Take it from the top:

Get your management in to see your customers. Don’t just settle for your sales director – get the MD in there too. This can be a pain to organise, but you must show your business that there are top-quality customers out there who can supply sustainable, profitable growth. Our sector has people who are in it for the long run – agree your joint business plans with them and deliver together.

Open your eyes:

Understand the variables that affect your business. Weather and temperature can have a huge effect on off-take and convenience retailers can turn on features far more flexibly than the rest of the market can. Snow sends consumers into a panic: petrified of vehicle pile-ups in the local superstore car park, they besiege local c-stores and decimate the shelves. Take advantage by watching out for weather events and warning customers up front to stock up. Beautiful, full-priced sales fall straight into your lap.


Most depots can be dull places at the best of times, but get a small display incentive together and create competition between rival sites. Wait to be amazed by the quality of the entries and the truly incremental sales that are generated.

Retailer insight:

Follow who wins the retailing awards and visit their shops. Ask them to show you around. Understand the missions that they are catering for and I guarantee that you will be stunned by their creativity.

It is all about actionable insights: take them to your customers and build plans to deliver against them.

It can be hard-going at times, but wholesale is also more fun than other sectors of the grocery industry.

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Simon is the former head of convenience at Heinz. He has vast experience across the sales and marketing disciplines, including trade funds management, export sales and European marketing.


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