After joining Sugro as managing director last September, Neil Turton speaks exclusively to RN about how the buying group is improving the service it offers independent retailers

RN Following on from the Tesco-Booker and Co-op-Nisa mergers, Today’s Group and Landmark Wholesale joined forces to form Unitas Wholesale. How has the service Sugro provides to retailers been affected by these changes? 

NT It is vital Sugro pushes the refresh button on its strategy to become more relevant to the changes within the industry. Sugro’s 80 wholesale members have traditionally only been about confectionery, crisps and soft drinks and have sold nothing else. 

We might not be the biggest buying group, but we have to change this historic specialism if our wholesalers are going to be able to offer the best service to retailers. 

Sugro’s trading team is concentrating on sharpening deals with new suppliers to give retailers access to a wider range, which will include groceries and alcohol. 

RN How will retailers be supported in this new direction?

NT We need to be seen by retailers to be doing more in these categories. We’ll provide more category support and training to our members in areas such as social media. 

We want to help improve our wholesalers’ e-commerce services, which is only offered by a third
of members. 

There will also be more customer service training. We want to see these benefits passed onto retailers. We’re verging on territories that haven’t previously been approached by Sugro.

RN Will there be many changes to how a retailer orders from a Sugro wholesaler?

NT One of the things I did when I was at Nisa was look at personalisation.For example, a retailer shopping from the wholesaler website would be prompted if they were a certain quantity away from an ordering discount. Personalised proposals would also be provided online.
This is one area I am looking to bring to Sugro.

RN Experts predict online retailers such as Amazon will further disrupt traditional stores. How is Sugro ensuring independent retailers can compete with online retail giants?

NT If businesses don’t embrace e-commerce, they’ll wonder where their customers have gone. 

Customers are engaging differently nowadays. There’s the notion about infinite range and Amazon is a prime example of this. They have more than 150 lines of mustard on sale and that’s just one example of their entire product range. 

We’re looking at how we can add the concept of extended range into our strategy. 

One way is by adding niche brands from specialist suppliers and wholesalers. 

These can’t be purchased anywhere else and will help retailers offer a point of difference. 

RN Does Sugro’s new focus on improving its digital services impact the cash and carry experience for independent retailers? 

NT Traditional cash and carry still has a role, and offering online services such as click-and-collect can complement this. 

Take the example of wholesalers in other groups, such as Time Wholesale Services. Their Rainham depot shows retailers what they can get with the Lifestyle Express fascia if they’re not already a member of it while they are picking up or browsing stock.

RN You have a retail club with more than 2,000 members. Can retailers expect Sugro to develop its own symbol group? 

NT We’re going to place huge emphasis in helping our wholesalers improve the way they connect with retailers, but we have no plans to create our own symbol group. 

A number of our members have their own fascias and help them in areas such as merchandising, range and customer service. 

RN Will this support come from your previous experience at Nisa?

NT The support will come from a number of staff appointments. We took on Raj Krishan as business development head last year. He used to be Blakemore Wholesale’s distribution director and used to develop symbol groups for me when we were together at Nisa. The reason for appointing him
was because of this expertise.