Most of the talk in the wholesale channel over the past year has been about a wholesaler that joined forces with Tesco.
Manchester-based Rayburn Trading once reportedly found itself in a similar position to Booker, but declined the supermarket giant’s offer.
Despite this, the £84m business, which this year celebrates the 60th anniversary of its incorporation, continues to grow stronger.
The business started life in 1948, when Bernard ‘Benny’ Goldman would drive from Manchester to London to purchase tinned food from American ships, before driving back to Manchester to sell them.
According to his family, Goldman did this for nearly 10 years as he got Rayburn – a combination of his and his first wife Ray’s name – off the ground, often sleeping for just two hours a night.
The son of Russian parents, Goldman was born and raised in the UK. Aged 19, he left to fight for the International Brigades and ended up getting shot in the chin. A stint as a tank commander in the Second World War followed, before Goldman settled in the UK and formed Rayburn.
The company gathered so much momentum that Tesco came knocking. Benny’s grandson, buying director Russell Goldman, says: “One of the founders of Tesco came to meet him and asked if he wanted to join together. But he did not know what a supermarket was at that time, and said no. He was always fiercely independent, too. It is bittersweet to think about, as I do not think we would exist if he had said yes.”
Rayburn, which is a member of both the Sugro and Today’s Group buying groups, operates from its 90,000 sq ft headquarters in the Cheetham Hill area of Manchester. This base, which contains a showroom, is supported by a 100,000 sq ft storage warehouse in Bury, Greater Manchester.
The business operates with about 4,000 SKUs in total, has approximately 2,500 ‘live’ customers, most of which are independent retailers and discounters, employs 170 members of staff, and has a fleet of 13 vehicles delivering all over the UK. Around 30% of the business’ orders come via the website. While the household & laundry category remains its main focus, Rayburn is continually growing its presence in confectionery and soft drinks.
A major contributor to Rayburn’s success in recent years has been its export operation, headed up by Goldman’s brother, Howard. He says: “The world has become a lot smaller. We have been able to grow the export side quite considerably and we now work with a number of countries. We have to use Google Translate here and there, but ultimately, even with a language barrier, with a price and a picture, it is no problem.”
While the UK remains the main market for Rayburn this year, with many customers in this market having ordering fobs that they use by scanning items in their own stores, the business is looking to increase the trade it does globally, particularly outside of Europe.
But why do customers both home and abroad stick with Rayburn? Goldman says: “There is no business out there who I could compare us to, like for like. We have a lot of items produced under our own names. We also do distribution for various companies, too. They may do the multiples, say, but they do not want to do the discounters or independents, so we would do that for them.”
He adds: “Range is very important to our customers, and we have tried to become a one-stop shop. So even if our customers do have to go elsewhere, at least they get the majority of their stock here first. We are very competitive, and work very closely with our suppliers. We have new items coming in daily, so there is always something new in our showroom. That is how I like to think we keep our customers excited.”
Goldman re-emphasises the importance of working closely with suppliers, and Rayburn has recently taken on a licence for Jelly Belly products, making it the exclusive distributor for its household products, such as candles.
“That is something new for us, going into licensing, but it is all about doing something that makes us exclusive,” he admits. “If people want to buy that item, they have to come to us – they cannot buy it elsewhere. The more items we can do like that, the stronger we become as a business.”
Nevertheless, you can have all the exciting licence deals in the world, but if you do not get your customer service right, it counts for nothing.
Goldman is keenly aware of this: “We try very hard to ram it home to our staff that we need to look after our customers for the entire journey. Okay, they have placed the order, but perhaps they want to know the status of the order – when it will be ready, when it will be shipped, when it will arrive and so on.
“If someone places the order in the showroom, we have a text-generated system where they receive a message saying when the order is ready to pick up. It is little things like that that are important to customers. You have to think about how we shop as consumers when we shop online.”
Every year, Rayburn’s managers hold a ‘think tank’ and the directors also hold one. A plan of action is formed and monthly meetings are staged to measure progress.
Such meetings are invaluable, as several obstacles lie in the path to further success for Rayburn. Goldman points to space being the biggest challenge in 2018, as the business is currently operating at 90% capacity. The team is now looking for a new warehouse, ideally in the Greater Manchester area.
Russell and Howard are not the only family members working in the business: their father, Michael, is the managing director, although he is beginning to step back from frontline duty, and another brother, Adrian, heads up Rayburn’s online trading arm.
While the merged Booker/Tesco may present something akin to a ‘what might have been’, the Goldmans are proudly carrying on their grandfather’s legacy and relishing the prospect of taking Rayburn to even greater heights.
60 seconds with Russell Goldman
What is the best piece of advice you can offer?
Do not be afraid. If you want to try to do something, challenge yourself.
What is your philosophy with regards to work?
As a family business, we like to be accessible to our workforce, and we want them to come in to work and enjoy what they are doing.
Whom do you most admire and why?
My grandfather. He was an incredible guy and so switched on, too. I used to drive him mad telling him he should write a book about his unbelievable life.
What do you get up to in your spare time?
We go and watch (Manchester) United a lot. We also have season tickets at the Manchester Arena. Then it is the usual – driving my children around in dad’s taxi.