Paul Hill spoke to Fahmad Parvaiz, head of operations & marketing at A1 Cash And Carry in Mississauga, Canada
Talk us through the history of the business.
A1 Cash & Carry began in 1998 as a part-time business operating out of our home garage. We started by selling shopping bags and slowly added more items that our customers required. We pivoted from shopping bags and retail supplies into foodservice, and have been in that line ever since.
What’s your wholesale story, how did you get into the industry?
A1 got truly into wholesale about 12 years ago, when we had opened our first cash & carry, this was a showroom style cash and carry – where one would give their order to a clerk, the order was picked by the warehouse and then given to the customer at the door. Since then, A1 has evolved into a walk-through cash and carry model, with three locations, and is looking to expand through more locations, and online ordering.
What products do you trade in?
Our focus is foodservice, and we trade in nine key categories: Food Packaging, Janitorial, Wares & Equipment, Beverage, Bulk Grocery, Frozen Foods, Proteins, Dairy and Produce.
Who are your customers?
Our customers are typically small-medium sized restaurants or caterers, from a wide variety of backgrounds, our main location is in Mississauga which is one of the most multicultural cities in the world!
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Where are they based and how many do you serve total?
90% of our customer base is within a 30 minute drive of one of our three locations We service 1,000+ customers daily, which is a figure that has grown 10% annually for the last four years running, we have won Maclean’s magazines’ growth 500 for the last four years due to this incredible growth.
What is the split between retail customers, and foodservice/catering customers?
90% of our customers are foodservice, the other 10 composes of other smaller distributors who buy from us, industrial customers, medical offices, car dealerships, cleaning companies and many others.
Is this figure likely to change?
Yes, with additions of new cash and carry outlets, and our online store we forecast double digit growth for the next three to five years again.
What gives your business its USP?
A1 focuses on a wide range, both in depth and width, we have multiple brands of pasta while also stocking multiple types of pasta. Our second USP is price, we make sure to be competitively priced in the market. The 3rd USP is convivence, we make sure shelves are stocked 97% of the time, and target our locations near highways so customers can get in and our quickly.
What are your growth plans for the year ahead?
Our pillars of growth are to add new customers, and to build the dollar amount of a customer’s basket. To build new customers we are planning to build new locations, focus on our e-commerce, and introduce a new focused marketing strategy. To build the dollar amount of a customer’s basket, we are planning on adding 1,000+ items each year, and to introduce stronger product launches to ensure all our customers know of all the products we stock.
A1’s long term goal is to be a billion dollar annual revenues business
What products do you want to sell in greater numbers?
We are trying to grow in three main categories; eco-friendly products with a focus on packaging, small wares and equipment, and meat & seafood.
Has there been any streamlining of your product portfolio?
A1 quarterly reviews all SKUs that we sell, during these SKU rationalisations we streamline our product portfolios to ensure efficient offerings to our customers. Unfortunately with Covid-19 these SKU rationalisations have had to be more often, and many more SKUs have been streamlined. We hope to revisit and relist items as Covid dies down and the industry resurges.
What is the overarching 5-10-year strategy for the business? How will the business differ then from what it looks like now, and also in terms of size, compared to its present-day state?
A1’s long term goal is to be a billion dollar annual revenues business – our strategy to do that is to introduce more outlets in under-serviced areas, introduce deeper product lines, and to build more lines of business to better serve customers.
What is the biggest challenge that the business faces?
Currently the biggest challenge is the supply chain, Covid has put a huge strain on imported products, and the demand in the US has caused many vendors to ignore their Canadian customers. We have learned that we need to have alternate suppliers for everything, and that we need to control deeper into the supply chain.
What is the best thing about working at A1?
The best thing about working with A1 is the liveliness. The culture is friendly, upbeat, and quick. Everyday is something new, and you get to the decisions you took a year ago, and how they play out in the flesh.
What work has the company done to improve its environmental footprint?
A1 Cash and Carry has focused on many small things, to try and make a big impact. We’ve introduced product lines at very reasonable prices, typically environmentally friendly items were very expensive and out of reach for many smaller restaurants. We have changed all the lighting in our locations to high efficiency fluorescents or LEDs. Our Toronto location runs on solar power, and our Mississauga location features a special white tarp roof which keeps the building cool in summers and warm in winters.
How do you ensure that the business has a strong gender balance, and is attracting the workforce of tomorrow?
A1 has been actively recruiting for the last three years, and in our recruiting efforts we have had a strong focus on gender balance. We are happy to say that our e-commerce project has been lead by a newly hired woman. A1 focuses on giving opportunities to our team, you aren’t bound by your job description or title, we want you to learn, think and grow with us.