Since he left school at 18, Mike Beer has spent his entire career in wholesaler and cash and carry management.
Beer’s first job was as a trainee manager at Wright & Green, a wholesaler just outside Manchester. He showed a knack for the business and was appointed assistant manager within 18 months.
But the company was taken over two and a half years later and, finding himself at odds with the new owner, he joined another wholesaler, Nurdin & Peacock.
During his time there, he managed several depots and spent 18 months on the road setting up new stores. Then he was made branch manager in Sidcup and, in 1986, N&P was taken over by Booker.
In 1994, Beer became manager of Booker’s Medway branch, where he remains. At 90,000 sq ft, it is one of Booker’s larger depots. The client base is 80% retailers, 20% caterers, with the latter offering the greatest opportunities, says Beer. “I’d like to see that split changing because of the better margins that caterers deliver.”
Initiatives are being put in place that should help Beer achieve this aim. In April, Booker rolled out a programme of weekly specials aimed specifically at caterers. Four to five KVI items a week, all key regular purchases by caterers, feature in the programme.
Booker Medway will also soon start to offer catering customers the new Booker Express service – a next-day, top-up delivery service for caterers. Beer believes this service will help win new customers.
“It’s a chance for us to pick up people who may be using other sources. They might use Booker Express for distress purchases, and think we do such a good job that they start using us as their main source.”
Beer is looking forward to June 14, when new Booker chief executive Hans Kristian Hustad will tell a conference of Booker managers what plans he has for the business. On the whole, Beer is already impressed. “He’s making the right noises, emphasising that the customer is key.”
Hustad has indicated that branch managers will be given more powers to stage local promotions tailored to their own customer base, a development which has delighted Beer.
Availability levels on key items are also improving. Having fallen to 97.5% earlier this year, they are now back up to 98.8%, says Beer. During the periods of poor availability, Beer ensured customers were kept fully informed, and doesn’t believe he lost any as a result.
Beer also welcomes Hustad’s pledge to recruit new stores to the Premier fascia. “The ones we need to go after are the retailers out there operating under Costcutter and Spar fascias,” says Beer.