2020 has been one of the toughest years ever faced by the wholesale sector. The Covid-19 pandemic has put huge pressure on wholesalers across the country, with local and national lockdowns particularly impacting the foodservice sector and Thomsons Foodservice.
While the roll out of vaccination programmes, improved testing and track and trace offers hope of better times ahead, the reality is that we’re likely to face varying degrees of restrictions well into spring at least. So for wholesalers who have maintained and evolved operations during this turbulent year, how can they make the most of the next few weeks and months and invest that time smartly to make sure they not only get their business over the line into better times, but are also ready to thrive when restrictions are eased?
Here, Jackie Watts, sales director at Thomsons Foodservice explain how they made the most of digital to broaden their business offer during the first national lockdown:
We decided to set up an online ordering app with RNF’s b2b.store after the decline in orders from our wholesale customers due to Covid-19. Despite supplying a number of small shops, butchers and takeaways that remained open during lockdown, the vast majority of our customers had stopped trading. Although still supplying local retail stores, we saw a need in our local community, which was still struggling to purchase basic necessities, especially those in more remote areas of Dumfries & Galloway. We still maintained high stock levels of flour, pasta, toilet roll etc and saw an opportunity to help both our company and the local community by opening up our services to the general public.
We started taking non trade orders via telesales and found that, over time, as these orders started to rise, so did the orders from our trade customers. With staff furloughed and trading days shortened, we felt we needed to do something to relieve the pressure on our staff so we discussed the options with Rob Mannion from b2b.store and we saw a need for an online ordering app.
Rob showed us an example of the type of web app we could have and we were immediately impressed by the look and functionality of the site. We were also encouraged by the turnaround time to get this set up.
The first steps were to create a CSV file with the range of products we required to have on the web app, along with columns such as non trade prices, product categories and image links. We were able to export the majority of product information from our current telesales ordering system. The next step was to manually add the descriptions and image links. Once we had this information and sent it over to b2b.store, we had a live site ready to take orders within hours.
Within one month of having our ordering app, we gained over 200 active users. We couldn’t believe how much the app had taken off and our customer’s feedback has been great. Many commented on how great it was for them to see a wider range of our products and also how easy it was to place an order. We opted to contact the customer for payment rather than take payment through the app as this gave us more control over orders, and we were able to contact customers to adjust their orders if items were unavailable.
As part of the b2b.store service, we also have access to an admin panel, which shows us a dashboard of app and transaction data along with access to our ads and product placement, meaning we can easily add banner and full page adverts and change them whenever we like.
We were impressed by the functionality and ease of use of the b2b.store app and, as a result, we have decided to continue offering this service to the general public for the foreseeable future. We were also inundated with requests from our wholesale customers asking if we could create the same type of app for them so we have now decided to launch a similar app through b2b.store for our B2B customers.
Rob, Adam and Carlin at b2b.store were invaluable throughout this process, offering advice and support in order to help us get set up quickly in order to meet customer demand.”
Rob Mannion, founder and CEO of RNF’s b2b.store, added: “It was great to be able to help Thomsons Foodservice adapt their business to support B2C customers during lockdown and we’re delighted that it supported them in serving a new market during these challenging times.
“The move towards digital wholesaling has gained traction over the last few years, becoming one of the strongest growth channels in that time and this process has only been accelerated during the pandemic, helping wholesalers pivot their businesses, automate processes and create new services such as click and collect, delivery and
“Now that these services are in situ, it’s unlikely things will go back to the way they were before, making the impetus for those not already on line to create a digital offering even stronger.
“b2b.store makes it possible to implement an eCommerce platform that works across mobile, tablet and desktop in a single click but one of the biggest barriers to adoption so far has been prioritising the time to provide the data needed to populate the app.
“With attention focussed on keeping day-to-day operations going, it’s understandable that sourcing product data and imagery is not always top of the ‘to do’ list. That’s why we recently made our premium onboarding service – which supports wholesalers to do just this – free for foodservice wholesalers.
For other wholesalers experiencing relative downtime due to ongoing tier restrictions, investing some of this time into compiling the data required could be one of the smartest investments they make: helping them trade online with minimal overheads over the coming months; and ensuring they’re well placed to thrive when the return to normal eventually arrives.