Booker's cash and carry depot in Reading is a good place to start if you want to find out how the wholesaler's recovery strategy to focus, drive and broaden the business is going. One of its key focuses is expanding operations and improving services for its customers, says general manager Chris Webber.
As far as the Reading depot is concerned, this includes growing fresh food deliveries to Booker Premier club retailers and pushing locally sourced fresh produce and a newly launched Polish range. There's also the World Cup to consider.
"We have 2,500 fresh food lines now," says Webber. "We rolled out locally sourced produce nine weeks ago. The quality and price are fantastic compared with what we're used to for fresh produce. Some items are up to 30% cheaper. Our fresh food sales are up 12% by volume in comparison with last year."
The advantage of using local suppliers, he says, is that it cuts down on transport time, increasing shelf life. At the other end of the sourcing spectrum, there has been a call to source products from further afield. "We're building a Polish range. We only have Polish alcohol at the moment. There's a big Polish community in Reading and we're looking for a company to supply us."
But the most immediate issue is the World Cup and Webber has been working on a themed display in the middle of the depot to plug World Cup promotions. "We're getting massive supplier support and we've set up a big display including beer, soft drinks, tortilla chips and crisps for the home matches."
Aside from these areas, the Reading depot will continue to try to build its foodservice sales, which represent the bulk of its business. "Sales to caterers are rising," says Webber, "especially around event times". The depot is ideally placed to provide support for occasions ranging from the Henley Regatta and horse racing at Ascot to the Reading Festival.
There's a lot for Webber, a relative newcomer to the business, to get his teeth into and he relishes the prospect. He became head of Booker's Reading depot nine months ago. But he has been quick to stamp his character on it in the form of specially designed boards that he places throughout the warehouse, particularly near the entrance, to emphasise special 'wow' deals.
These offers are available at all Booker depots. When The Grocer came visiting, these included £3.99 for a 24-pack of Coca-Cola and £7.99 for 15 1kg bags of sugar. So it would seem that Webber is taking to his new role like a duck to water, despite his lack of experience in the wholesale arena.
Webber says the transition to the cash and carry sector was not as great a culture shock as some might think: "The key is the customer and your relationship with them. I know my retail customers now like I knew my staff at Safeway."
That close relationship with retailers extends to employees as well. He regularly teams up with workers at the depot for social events. "We've got a paintball match coming up," he says. "It's managers and supervisors versus the rest." Sounds great. "Not really. There are only six managers and supervisors, so we're going to get hammered."