Wholesaling is vital to the economy yet seems invisible to everyone from schoolchildren to the government, says Julie Dunn.
About 18 months or so ago, after a particularly awful bout of warehouse hiring, I decided that I would interview potential new recruits myself.
I sat there for a couple of weeks, candidate after candidate. Many of them had studied panel-beating after they’d finished school. I’m not entirely sure what this is – I think it may be something to do with the car industry – but given how many young panel beaters applied for a job with us, it would seem that the number of opportunities does not match the number of practitioners!
So, there I was, a wholesaler with loads of opportunities on offer, faced with a bunch of young people who hadn’t even bothered to visit our website and who didn’t even know the opportunities we were offering them.
Following this, I wrote to seven local secondary schools, explaining that as a local employer, I was keen to forge links with young community members. I got one reply.
The ongoing battles I have endured to make meaningful contacts in my area have made me determined to raise the profile of wholesale as an entity in its own right.
We wholesalers – the box-shifters – ally ourselves to the producers and the operators at the other end of the supply chain. We are a sustaining resource specialising in support for both ends of the chain.
It is up to us to match the needs of a vast array of all sorts of businesses, be they community shops, hotels, care homes, forecourts, bowling clubs or schools, not to mention everything else in between.
These alliances with our supply chain partners are vital. For those wholesalers north of the border in particular, we need to reinforce them through the Scottish Wholesale Association (SWA) – of which I am the new president – by ensuring that we are fostering the right strategic relationships and collaborations.
Having said that, wholesalers also need to ensure we are allied to one another. We are a diverse band. Our foodservice members for many years felt disengaged and not on an equal footing to our cash & carry and delivered retail members.
The formation of the SWA’s Foodservice Group has removed these feelings, and reinvigorated its members and indeed the SWA Council. We will soon be forming a group for cash & carries and retail wholesalers, as well as a suppliers’ forum.
These groups will all discuss issues pertaining to their specific needs, but they will also allow for the celebration of difference – the soprano, the alto and the baritone, if you will. And we must strengthen from within to face the social, economic and legislative squalls outwith.
But we will all worry about staff development and the availability of the right training.
This is much-needed, because wholesale needs to raise its profile nationally. We need to be heard as an independent voice, as, let’s face it, we have plenty to say and plenty to offer. We are a significant employer in this country. That matters.
Thus, it matters in how our children are schooled, it matters in how our taxes are spent and it should matter in how government makes decisions.
Eighteen months on from my unfruitful attempt at recruitment and we are now working with four local schools and just about to enter our second year of graduate training placements. Just under a quarter of our workforce is aged 25 or under, with most of them taking part in accredited training schemes.
Growing our own is growing our turnover. But think how much plainer the sailing will be when wholesaling is the career destination!