Britain is full of uncertainty at the moment, which is never good for any of us.
The General Election result – a hung parliament, which eventually led to a coalition of the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party – was probably the worst it could have been in terms of stability and certainty. Elsewhere, our currency continues to fall on the world markets and the outlook for anyone bar exporters is generally a touch gloomy.
Personally, I found the run up to the election disappointing, as all the parties concentrated on criticising each other rather than saying what they would do.
Whatever path the coalition takes us on, though, wholesale will continue to thrive as it always does, despite the immense challenges our sector continues to face. We are a resilient bunch, led by some great businesses, and we continue to provide great services to our customers.
The past few weeks has seen some great weather in most parts of the UK, and, of course, nothing is better at getting in said customers than a period of sunshine. There is no better sight in a cash & carry than a bout of warm weather, resulting in a surge of customers exiting with trolleys piled high!
Of course, irrespective of who has the most seats in the Houses of Parliament, a boom in customers is also something of a challenge for wholesalers, who become very dependent on their suppliers and, naturally, their staff in such situations.
Staff are always your biggest and greatest asset. It is therefore imperative that wholesalers, retailers and suppliers continue to develop their staff by investing in them with great training.
I want you to think carefully about something I heard recently at a wholesale event. Question: ‘What happens if we train our staff and then they leave us?’ Answer: ‘What happens if we don’t train them and they stay with us?’
Training is something that’s easily overlooked, particularly when times are hard. But research shows that great training for your staff leads to retaining your better staff for longer. They, in turn, are more productive and you get better output from them. And the importance of great people to your business has never been higher.
New and exciting training methods are moving on in leaps and bounds, with technology-led solutions now enhancing and overtaking the more traditional classroom-style training sessions.
I have been very impressed with what I have seen from businesses such as Bolt Learning and its online, module-based systems for retailers, wholesalers and suppliers.
Training staff fits in perfectly with my strong view that we need to develop people in our channel. That leads to a stronger wholesale sector, which is important for all of us. We need to train and retain the good people, then develop our sector so that people actually want to work in wholesale, rather than seeing it simply as a stepping stone to something else.
In my view, investing in your staff to build a better business should be top of every company’s agenda. Staff may be your biggest cost, but they are also your biggest asset.
I also applaud the work of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) in developing people and our sector through many initiatives. The Women in Wholesale initiative and the Scottish Wholesalers Association are also investing heavily in mentoring and developing people, and like the FWD, they must be applauded for encouraging businesses to invest in their people.
We all have responsibilities to develop and promote wholesale, and to develop and promote our staff and our customers. The solutions are available to us – we just need to have the strategies to make them work.