Tom GK investigates what a good wholesale depot can teach retailers

This week I had a spare couple of hours on the south coast and – like the dedicated journalist that I am – I could think of nothing better than to spend that time wandering through a local wholesale depot. It had been a long time since I’d been around a depot like this and I easily filled up an hour just ambling through the giant building, viewing what was on offer and how the business was set up.

In a time where different companies are falling over each other to present themselves as the most supportive and helpful companies in the market, it was interesting to see first-hand how much you can learn just by looking at the way they work themselves.

Here’s what I saw:

1)  Great customer service

As I arrived, it was immediately clear that this was a peak time for restocking the shelves, with boxes, bags and plastic on the floor. Despite the activity, it wasn’t difficult to get around and when I reached one area that was by far the most disrupted, a happy member of staff approached me, apologising for the mess and assuring me that it wouldn’t be there much longer. “Not a problem,” I smiled back. Although I’d never been inside this depot before, I immediately felt welcome and it goes to show that whatever problems stores have (which they all inevitably do, from time to time) good service can turn a negative into a positive experience for the customer.

2) Good impressions start early

That the weather was atrocious won’t surprise anyone who was in the UK past week, but this day was even worse than usual: no shelter, wind from all angles and horizontal rain. It was wonderful, then, to see a coffee machine and a soft drinks machine by the door when I arrived. Not only did it suggest that the experience of retailers had been thought about from the first moment they approach the building, but it also made a building which could comfortably fit within it a lower league football stadium feel… well, cosier. I’m sure many shoppers would happily spend longer browsing through your store if there was a welcoming cuppa awaiting them and think about how much more money they could spend in those extra minutes.

3)  Multi-facings on a grand scale

One of the mantras of reps, industry experts and even RN is the importance of multi-facing major brands to make them unavoidable as customers scour the shelves. If you’re cynical about this or think the case is overstated, take a look at your wholesaler. Along the soft drinks aisle, I counted 11 huge bays given over purely to Coca-Cola, all its variants and formats, but excluding Fanta, Schweppes and all its other brands. Essentially, 11 whole bays of Coke! That compared with only three for Pepsi and added up to very nearly half of the depot’s whole soft drinks range. If the proverbial alien from outer space had arrived and wanted to know what Britain’s favourite soft drink was (a weird question for an alien to ask, granted) it wouldn’t have any trouble guessing with this clear design.

4)  Embrace supplier support

Wholesalers are clearly well practiced in the art of getting as much support from suppliers as they can. Point of sale material was everywhere in this depot and it made the displays attractive, attention-grabbing and, when new products were being showcased, exciting. With so much material available from suppliers, retailers can get the same effect for their stores without spending a penny.

5)  Advertise your services

The first thing retailers see as they enter this depot was a big sign promising great deals, extra support on category management and strong money-back terms. I wonder how many retailers are so clear with their customers about what they offer. Whether it’s a promise to always offer great service or a more specific notice about HND, dry cleaning or shopping deliveries, letting customers know what you can do for them is a simple but essential part of great retailing.

What ideas or lessons have you learned from how your wholesaler, cash and carry or symbol franchise operates?  Let us know in the comments below