The TR Suterwalla Group has two wholesale cash and carries, in London's Southall and Walthamstow. It is also a market leader in the distribution of Asian food products under the TRS brand in the UK and throughout the European Union and Russia.
Customer care and satisfaction are key parts of the TRS quality policy. Therefore, investment in people, in terms of staff training, is a priority.
But such investment is not just about giving something back to our employees. It is important to understand that it is an effective tool to achieve business goals. As such, our commitment to training has helped us to gain industry recognition and opened up new business avenues, as well as helping us retain staff.
It was back in 2001 that I first introduced a training programme to the company. This was an important move as we were bringing in new machinery as well as employing more staff.
It was also the result of a desire to gain British Retail Consortium accreditation, something championed by FT Suterwalla, TRS Wholesale managing director.
As he says: "It was important for us to acquire the BRC accreditation. This certificate enables us to sell goods to multiples such as Tesco and Sainsbury, which have now started taking an interest in branded ethnic products instead of having only own brand."
I organised the training with the help of Southall Regeneration Partnership. It took the form of both group and one-to-one sessions and was conducted in-house.
Initially the programme focused on professional courses such as food safety & hygiene, health & safety, first aid, manual handling and refresher courses for the forklift drivers.
After that, we started with on-the-line coaching and training, which covered the production and maintenance areas. A total of 30 people were actively involved in the operational activities.
The results speak for themselves. Not only has this programme improved the production capacity from 3,000 to 4,000 cartons a day, but it also achieved BRC higher-level accreditation at the first audit.
Importantly, people across the business believe it has been of benefit.
Samuel Chinyanga, production manager, says: "The programme was very successful and educational, and a big boost to staff morale. The overall production efficiency has gone up and eventually this reflects back to our customers. It is a very good way forward."
Meanwhile, MS Boughan, production supervisor, who has worked at TRS for the past 15 years, believes he has benefited from the initiative. "Now I understand food safety issues better and it helps me to improve the quality of TRS products," he says.
Apart from commercial benefits, job satisfaction is a key result of training, enabling people to enjoy their work and thus helping TRS with staff retention.
As Iqbal Kaur, quality controller, says: "I have worked at TRS for the past 16 years and now am a quality controller and enjoy my work. Food hygiene training has helped me to understand and resolve the quality issues."
We are keen to show our commitment to our employees' welfare. At the simplest level, this can be helping people in their day-to-day role. Punit Kanwar, order picker, has to lift heavy boxes of 5kg to 25kg, which are then dispatched to customers. "Manual handling training gave me the practical approach to lift heavy boxes correctly without causing any back pain," he explains.
But while staff training brings important commercial and employee benefits, it is not a quick-fix solution. To change the culture of the company through investment in people is a long journey - it is an evolution, not a revolution.
However, thanks to the recognition and results of our training, we have been asked to develop training programmes for two TRS stores and work is now in progress.
As my managing director says: "We are a large employer in Southall and employ a large number of people. It is important for us to be recognised as an employer that cares for its staff."