Trade to win

    A good trade day can boost sales by as much as £1m in a single day. Lindsay Sharman asks key suppliers, wholesalers and customers about the secret to trade day success 

    From annual extravaganzas to weekly promotions, trade events are firmly established as an essential part of the wholesale calendar and there are benefits for all involved.

    “Trade days are a critical part of cash & carry trading – members can see sales increase five-fold on a successful trade day, which can mean up to £1m for some businesses”, says John Baines, trading director at Today’s Group.  


    £6.7m worth of business was done by retailers at the Independent Retail Show in 2013


    Wholesalers and suppliers get to see a spike in sales, suppliers have the chance to demonstrate new products and retailers and caterers can pick up stock at a discounted rate. Not only that, everyone gets to interact face to face – which in today’s fast-paced environment is an invaluable tool for establishing and maintaining relationships.

    Baines adds: “From a supplier’s point of view, trade days offer a valuable opportunity to get face-to-face interaction with retailers and caterers.”

    The size and frequency of trade events varies widely across the sector with some wholesalers choosing a larger event that takes place once or twice a year, and others holding weekly or monthly promotional days in depot – or a combination of both. Palmer & Harvey for example holds its annual Pro-retail show at the International Centre in Telford, Shropshire and sees more than 6,000 visitors and 200 suppliers come together for the two-day show. On the other hand, Parfetts in Stockport holds a trade day every Wednesday that is well attended by retailers looking to pick up that week’s deal.

    “We are rare here at Parfetts because we have six depots but we have localised buying teams and each depot will put on specific trade days and weeks. It’s a massive part of our business,” says Parfetts marketing and PR manager Guy Swindell.

    “Stockport has a weekly trade day on a Wednesday and it is still as popular as ever. It has become a cornerstone of the week for customers – it’s the day where, as a retailer, you know you need to come to depot.”

    Stockport’s weekly trade days have become part of the routine for its customers. Some of its success is due to the variety of suppliers that offer deals – there’s something different each week and retailers know deals won’t be repeated week in, week out. Variety is important to wholesale customers and in some ways that can be a disadvantage, leading to a tendency for them to go wherever the deal is rather than stay loyal to one wholesaler.

    Simon Gray is the managing director of Boost Drinks, a company that only distributes its product through wholesale and convenience, and regularly attends trade days. He says this tendency for customers to follow the deals is an opportunity for wholesalers to think about what else they can do.

    “Having so many trade days mean retailers flock to one and then to another – it allows them to cherry pick. A question to ask is how can we make sales more consistent rather than having massive peaks and troughs, which can happen as a result of trade day?” he says. 

    [pull_quote_right]Ramadan means customers who follow Islam can’t sample food in the morning – so a sampling event at 10am would be a waste of time. It’s knowing your customers[/pull_quote_right]

    Regardless of size, putting on a successful trade day involves good planning, from the venue and time of year to getting the right mix of customers and suppliers, along with effective marketing.

    Some wholesalers chose to hold trade days in the depot itself – the advantages being that the retailers are already familiar with the set-up and costs are kept to a minimum. Others choose to hold theirs in separate venue, which pushes up the costs but if you’re planning to do a trade day once or twice a year makes it feel out of the ordinary.

    Hughson Brothers in the Shetland Islands has an annual trade day and because of its remote location, planning is particularly pertinent. Suppliers have to fly up and managing director Carl Cross says he usually encourages them to travel the night before to avoid the morning mist, which can delay flights. This year the show was on May 28 and it took place in a local sports centre at Clickimin in Lerwick, Shetland.

    “We hire a room in the sports centre so it’s a nice warm environment without the phones ringing. It costs us about £1k to rent it but we charge suppliers back to recoup the money,” he says.

    The payoff for the preparation is a huge volume of product being sold and a high rate of attendance. This year’s day saw around 75% of Hughson Brothers customer base attend and a week’s worth of sales achieved in one day.

    “We make about £140,000 in one day and sold 11,000 cases of product – a 25% increase on the previous year”, says Cross. 

    Linda Fraser, business development executive for Nestlé was one of the suppliers at the Hughson Brothers show. Although she was looking to increase the volume sales primarily – connecting face to face with retailers was another advantage of attending.


    75% of Hughson Brothers’ customers attended its trade day in Shetland


    “It’s about relationship building – you get to recognise people. If you’re at a trade show for the first time then you have to ask people if they are a retailer or caterer. There is no point me talking about cases of Kit Kat if the person I’m speaking to is an hotelier,” she says.

    Today’s John Baines urges more suppliers to visit a variety of depots to understand the channel and gain first hand insight into the sector:  “For us, a successful event is not just about increasing volume through the biggest members – smaller members need support, too.” 

    Having a good understanding of your customers is another important element of holding a successful trade event. Do more of your customers prefer to visit the depot in the morning for example, or is the afternoon a better time? Is there a particular day of the week that works best? Trevor Sidley, Grace Foods sales and marketing controller, explains:

    “Some cash and carries will have a strong early morning trade but there’s no particular rules that say 10am is the best time. You need to think about other factors that have an influence. Ramadan for example means customers who follow Islam can’t sample food during that time so a sampling event then would be a waste of time. It’s about knowing your customers,” he says.

    And knowing your customers means more chance of communicating with them effectively – another key element of the successful trade event. Whether it’s through traditional methods like flyers and posters or you choose to communicate via text and email, making sure people know what’s happening and when is vital. 

    “It’s better to tell them ten times than not at all,” says Carl Hughson.

    Hughson Brothers is a member of Today’s, which means the trade day in May benefited from PoS created by the buying group, including banner, posters and stickers all themed around “Gold Rush”. Creating excitement and awareness at the venue is an integral part of a successful event and something that suppliers will value, along with consideration about where they will be positioned.

    “Trade days can be crazy. There are so many suppliers fighting for space that even when it is done well, it can be a bit of a bun fight,” says Simon Gray from Boost.

    Overall there’s no question of the value of trade days for all concerned, although one final challenge might be to work out how to entice customers who are reluctant to leave their businesses to attend.

    “Ordering online is becoming the norm and an internet trade day would be great for us,” says retailer Paul Mather.

    Click here to see Today’s Group’s John Baines share his 10 steps to trade show success

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    Lindsay Sharman is a former editor of Retail Newsagent, news editor of Retail Express and account manager in public relations for leading food and drink brands. Lindsay loves anything to do with the arts, including mid-century antiques, and cycles everywhere, even in winter


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