Bestway Hackney may be small, but sales per square feet are sky-high, writes ELIT ROWLAND
London is a competitive market for wholesalers, but that hasn’t stopped Bestway’s Hackney branch from being a top depot for sales. At 70,000sq ft, the branch is one of the smaller of Bestway’s 62 sites, but thanks to a fantastic location and speedy service, sales per square feet are very high.
“We’ve got 15 bays of Coca-Cola in Croydon, compared with five in Hackney, but we still sell the most Coke!” explains area operations manager Waqar Ahmed (pictured on page 9).
So what’s driving success? One clear factor is how the depot takes on the ‘space versus sales’ challenge, which Ahmed says is the most exciting thing going on in the depot. Not only are customers offered a range of 14,000 live SKUs within quite a modest warehouse, a large area is also cornered off for fantastic displays designed to generate a ‘wow’ factor with customers on arrival. One of the most phenomenal displays put on by the Hackney team was to celebrate the cricket series between Pakistan and England in Dubai.
But Ahmed still needs to make sure that his customers keep coming back, particularly when there’s so much competition around.
“Look at Barking: there’s around 20 cash & carries in a small space – customers have a lot of choice.” But Ahmed is helping to secure business for the Hackney depot by offering a good, speedy service. “We want to get them in and out as quickly as possible. The quicker they are out, the quicker they will come back.”
While the depot seems to have its offering just right, one of the biggest challenges the wholesaler faces is how to use the modest space to accommodate new growth areas – in particular, fresh produce and foodservice, both of which are high on Ahmed’s radar. He has plans to ramp up butchery in Hackney, despite one small problem: the depot is on the door-step of London’s biggest and busiest market – Spitalfields.
“We’re confident we can take on the challenge because we will be better at buying,” he explains. The business has already hired two specialist fresh negotiators with a vast amount of international experience.
As a former buyer himself, Ahmed is confident that the Bestway training programme will give the buyers the edge they need.
“I started out as a buyer – it’s good fun. You have to listen to your gut. You won’t always get what you want, but you have to ask.”
Hackney is just one of nine depots that Ahmed looks after and while Hackney has a 90% retail focus, there have been some exciting on-trade developments at the Brighton branch, which was recently confirmed as one of 17 branches now offering food and drink to the foodservice market.
With a minimum drop of just £150 a week, it comes as no surprise when Ahmed says that the offer is tempting pub customers away from other well-known foodservice operators.
Earlier this year, Better Wholesaling visited Bellevue (Batleys) Cash & Carry in Edinburgh, where the direct to on-trade service was first hatched and the concept thrived for a year before being rolled out to other depots, including Brighton.
Retailers are critical to businessThe shop on the high street is very important to Bestway, particularly for London-based depots, which face fierce competition from the multiples.
“Just this morning, I was driving to Croydon and noticed a new Morrisons opening up, which will be a challenge for the retailers in that area,” says Ahmed, who also looks after Extra Local, Bestway’s retail club for non-symbol group retailers. The club has 85 members and a compliance rate of 60%, so there’s a good opportunity to help these businesses to develop.
“Compliance isn’t great at the moment but we’re working on it. Simple things like passing on promotions can offer retailers a good opportunity to grow sales, but too many just put the money in their pockets.”
And with no electronic point-of-sale to register what they are selling, making sure that Extra Local retailers stay on the right track is not always easy. “We send our business development managers to help out, but when they’ve finished and drive off, we don’t know what the retailer is going to do.”
Another challenge is the constant battle with illicit tobacco and alcohol – the prices are just too tempting for retailers to ignore.
“We call them the ‘white van men’,” explains Ahmed, and they are eating into category sales. “Our customers say that they want to do their whole shop with us, but because prices on illicit products are so competitive, they go to the ‘dark side’.”