Talk is cheap

Elit Rowland explains how wholesalers can improve their marketing without splashing out.

Last month, Booker announced that the Premier symbol estate would be advertised on TV for the first time in its history. The investment will raise the profile of the brand and its Euro Shopper range with retailers and consumers, and with the advert scheduled to run daily on ITV for a year, there’s no doubt this investment will pay off.

So what should other symbol group retailers and wholesalers do to up their marketing game in response? Does everyone need a multimillion pound marketing budget to succeed?


Four ways to improve your marketing

  1. Specialist TV and radio: Find out which TV and radio channels your target audience use – adverts on these are likely to be much cheaper than on mainstream channels.
  2. Social media: Engage with your customers and their customers using social media – it doesn’t have to cost a penny.
  3. Symbol support: To make more ‘noise’ and help your customers to stand out from the crowd, encourage them to use point-of-sale material and brochures, and to create events.
  4. Shout about results: Capture quantifiable examples of how your business has helped to support customers and share it using your website, social media and the trade press.


The answer is no, not really. In the past few months, there have been some smart marketing initiatives from many wholesalers that have required far less investment – some of them, none at all.

While advertising on mainstream TV can seem out of reach for many wholesalers, TV and radio adverts that target a more specific customer base can present a more affordable option. Elbrook Cash & Carry says that part of its sales success has come from investing in Bollywood TV advertising.

“We have a restaurant called Chak89 and we advertise it every hour on the Bollywood Indian Sky TV network,” says Elbrook buyer Bikal Shrestha.

Annual sales at Elbrook, which is a member of Today’s Group, are £143m, which is up 11% compared with the previous year. “Our investment in this kind of marketing has helped to drive this,” says Shrestha.     

But for those who don’t necessarily have the budget for either mainstream or niche TV, social media is another option that is increasingly successful at creating engagement and building loyalty with customers.

Glasgow-based delivered wholesaler and cash & carry JW Filshill recently showed how easy social media engagement can be, with its campaign around the Commonwealth Games, which helped to raise the profile of its symbol store brand KeyStore. KeyStore shoppers were given the chance to win a free Irn Bru kilt if they posted ‘selfies’ of themselves with a can of Irn Bru and a KeyStore in the background.

Filshill managing director Simon Hannah says it was a great success: “The video promoting it was
shared via social media and downloaded hundreds of times – it was all good fun.”

The power of social media is also well highlighted by Isle of Man-based Agrimark, which recently managed to hit a £10m sales milestone. Over the past 15 years, the business has enjoyed year-on-year growth and average monthly sales are up 30% compared with a year ago. All this and with very little marketing spend – not even a website. Commercial director Chris Kewley says: “We have succeeded entirely by word of mouth and our Facebook page, which we use daily to share promotions and deal with customer queries.”

Agrimark is a member of Todays’ Group and is about to launch the group’s first symbol store on the island.  Luckily for Agrimark, it is the only wholesaler of its kind on the Isle of Man and there are few other symbol stores with which to compete. But being a member of a buying group with a symbol offering is also a good way to improve marketing and to compete directly with multiples.

Today’s Local retailer Fran Pearcy recently had a Co-op open up near her store in Broughton, North Lincolnshire, which devastated her sales by £6k a month. Her supplier, Dee Bee, responded by getting a business development manager straight to her store to help refresh its layout and promotions and to create as much noise as the new Co-op.

“They even arranged free goody bags for customers to drive traffic back to my store. As a result, I regained many of the customers I had lost,” says Pearcy.


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