Denys C Shortt argues that wholesalers need to adapt to survive

Our industry is going through one of the most interesting periods of change

At DCS Group, we are highly focused on our ability to adapt and innovate, and a famous Charles Darwin quotation is printed on our walls: ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.’

Recently, we have been seeing some businesses fail and one thing is for sure – big is not necessarily beautiful.

Carillion grew to an amazing size with 43,000 employees and went bust. Another giant, Capita, had 70,000 employees, but at the time of writing, it is seeing its profits drop, its shares halve and its CEO saying, “We are far too complex.”

Closer to home, Palmer & Harvey’s closure was no surprise to anyone in our industry, given that annually, it was turning over £4bn yet still managing to lose £45m, according to its last set of published accounts.

While these are all sad instances, we must still ask ourselves what can we learn from them.

In my view, strong leadership with a focus on adaptation and removing unnecessary complexity from business is vital.

At DCS, we have had innovation and change as part of every monthly board discussion for the past 10 years. Every visitor to DCS is met in our so-called Innovations Room – we have even banned boardrooms! 

How do we see our industry?

Consumers are increasingly opting for things that are convenient; they are also looking for best prices, which is why the discounters are still growing.

We can learn from winning businesses, and there are two in particular that I have been watching for years.

In convenience retail, Guy Warner has been growing and improving his convenience stores year after year. Guy’s focus on excellence is relentless – his stores are well laid out and focused on customer needs. His company strapline is, ‘At the heart of local life,’ and if you look at his website, you can see how he drives this hard.  

In 2016, his Broadway store won an award, but Guy did not rest on his laurels. He analysed changes in consumers’ needs, then expanded and regenerated the entire store at the end of last year, adding a post office, a large fresh bakery area and a huge wine shop.

It is this dynamism and focus that our industry needs. We need store owners to understand the change in consumers’ habits and adapt to them.

In wholesale, it is hard not to be impressed by the masterful rise of Booker under the leadership of Charles Wilson.

I met Charles early on when he joined Booker and was taken by not only his kindness, but also his total focus on a simple three-step business plan.

The words ‘focus, drive, broaden’ were etched into my brain.

It is such a simple plan that many businesses in all industries, small and large, can learn from:

Focus – On cash, reduce costs and always simplify the business.

Drive – Improve customer satisfaction, with choice up, prices down and better service.

Broaden – Offer the best price, choice and service to retailers and caterers using delivery, cash & carry and the internet, and be the suppliers’ preferred route to market.

I believe when you see a challenge, it also means an opportunity. I think convenience and discount stores still have a huge growth opportunity ahead, with disciplined practices and innovative thinking. 

Denys C Shortt OBE is the founder and owner of wholesaler DCS Group


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