When in Rome

    ELIT ROWLAND summarises key learnings from the recent Today’s Group conference in Rome

    You may wonder what the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and a woman who accidentally rowed solo across the Atlantic Ocean have to do with the Today’s Group 2014 Annual Conference. But with the theme ‘Carpe Diem’ – which means ‘seize the day’ – this year’s event took inspiration from an array of motivational speakers.

    Opening the conference, Mark Windebank, chairman of Today’s Group and owner of Northern Ireland- based Savage & Whitten, said: “During tough times, the consumer finds ways of managing with less money and finding better value options. We are going to have to up our game. ‘Seize the day’ reflects the opportunity to think about how we can work together to benefit everyone.”

    Here are the top five papers and the key messages.

    BILL LAIRD managing director, Today’s Group
    BILL LAIRD
    managing director, Today’s Group

    Wholesalers are raising their game – our members have invested £220m

    “In 2008 at the IGD Wholesaling conference, Rodney Hunt said that the future would be tough but that wholesalers are resilient,” Bill Laird told the more than 240 delegates present. “Rodney said there would be a greater focus on value and a need to invest in the channel. He was right.”

    Laird explained that the cost of living has outstripped earnings and inflation has kept value for money at the front of consumers’ minds. Nevertheless, there’s good news for convenience.

    “Since 2009, the sector has grown by 14%, symbol has grown by 18% and unaffiliated stores have declined by 5%. In that time, our members have invested £220m in their businesses, with more than £20m to come this year. Wholesalers are raising their game and our members are backing themselves for the long-term. The size of the prize for everyone involved is significant.”

    CHRISTINE CROSS independent retail consultant
    CHRISTINE CROSS
    independent retail consultant

    Think global – by 2017, Amazon will be the second largest retailer in the world.

    Online shopping grew from 14% to 25% last year, explained retail consultant Christine Cross, adding that global web sales will double by 2016. “Wholesalers can really capitalise on click & collect,” she said, adding that by 2017, Amazon will be the second largest retailer in the world.

    Cross identified many ways in which wholesalers can improve their businesses, including placing greater focus on customers. She said that wholesalers should be as paranoid about what their customers are doing as about their competitors.

    “Competitors aren’t going to spend money with you,” she said. Importance should also be given to personal recommendations, which are often more important than what’s written in the media.

    Social media in particular shouldn’t be underestimated. It can be a useful way to capture customer feedback. “62% of women and 50% of men access social media on a daily basis – but it’s worth noting that men spend 8% more money online than women,” she says.

    Big data will also continue to be important to wholesalers and suppliers, and could mean no more ‘mystery shopping’. “Using analytics to track your customers is important,” she added.

    Cross concluded her presentation by urging delegates to think locally and globally, sharing examples of how retailers all over the world are taking on competition with innovative campaigns.

    JOHN KINNEY retail director, Today’s Group
    JOHN KINNEY
    retail director, Today’s Group

    Opportunities ahead – 70% of consumers want mobile coupons from retailers

    “It’s a challenging market place but we are in growth and this is set to continue this year and beyond,” said John Kinney, retail director at Today’s Group. Kinney pointed out that 75% of retailers are optimistic about this year’s trading, offering a “big opportunity” for wholesalers.

    “Our total symbol stores grew 14% in the past year, despite removing a few stores that were not up to our standards.” Today’s has set a target of achieving 2,000 retail club and 500 symbol store members by the end of 2014-15 and plans to support its retailers with the Plan for Profit range advice guide.

    “We produce 60,000 books annually, with regular category reviews with suppliers every year. The digital version of the guide is now one of the most comprehensive sources of information of its type in our sector.”

    Kinney also highlighted a number of member wholesalers who are going the extra mile to help retailers to compete.

    “Savage & Whitten gives its customers a price comparison leaflet so that they can see how much money they are saving in comparison with multiples.”

    Opportunities ahead include promotions by mobile, better shared margin on price-marked packs (PMPs) and more support with the chilled category, Kinney says.

    “70% of consumers are happy to receive coupons from their local retailers by mobile phone; 55% of retailers want NPD info via a mobile phone; 60% of retailers would stock more PMPs if the margin was improved; and 66% say chilled is a big opportunity.”

    ATIF RASHID director, Alfa Wholesale
    ATIF RASHID
    director, Alfa Wholesale

    We survived a devastating fire – it took trust, support and determination

    Atif Rashid had only been working in wholesale for two years when a devastating fire hit his Glasgow-based cash & carry last year, leaving little more than ashes in the aftermath. But thanks to support from wholesalers and key suppliers, Rashid and his family got the business up and running again in just 12 months.

    “The first phone call I got after the fire was from Bill Laird,” says Rashid. “Lots more followed, including offers of help from fellow Today’s members United Wholesale and JW Filshill, to name a few. The support was incredible.”

    Rashid told delegates that millions of pounds’ worth of stock was ruined by the blaze, but thanks to support from JTI, among other suppliers, the wholesalers’ ‘tab’ was wiped clean, helping Alfa to start trading again.

    “Without their help, we’d have been millions of pounds in debt,” he said.

    Today, Rashid has not lost his fighting spirit and recently expanded the business to cover ethnic foods. “There are 15 other depots within a 15-minute drive of ours. We’re offering ethnic food to help differentiate our business.”

    A thirst for training and development will keep Rashid’s business growing for years to come.

    “The Scottish Wholesale Association asked us to identify rising talent, so I’ve joined the mentoring programme.” Rashid suggested that there may be value in Today’s and the Federation of Wholesale Distributors offering similar programmes.

    NOEL KEELEY managing director, Musgrave
    NOEL KEELEY
    managing director, Musgrave

    Technology will be game- changing – you can’t pile it high and sell it cheap any more

    Noel Keeley, managing director of Musgrave, told delegates that customers’ expectations have transformed and that the role of technology will be game‐changing.

    “Our customers want a retail experience when they go into a cash & carry – you can’t pile it high and sell it cheap any more.”

    Keeley explained that the next generation of retailers is not going to push trollies around a cash & carry. “The days of trading on the cash & carry floor are numbered. It’s going to be about price, product and service.”

    Keeley demonstrated this by announcing the launch of a transactional app that will enable customers to order products by scanning barcodes with their smartphones.

    The app is being trialled with 20 retailers and will save them money by removing the cost of a handheld scanner.

    Keeley also had a message for suppliers: “Can you please deliver what we order? My service‐in levels are 95%, my service‐out levels are 98%. Just 1% of my turnover can equate to as much as €5m [in lost sales].”

    Concluding his presentation, Keeley outlined a few opportunities for Today’s Group executives.

    “Will Today’s be the first buying group to put all their members in the cloud? The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

    You can read more speaker highlights and get the full summary of the Today’s Group conference in this month’s edition of Better Wholesaling. Subscribe now to receive your copy

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