Ever since the internet-enabled grocery wholesaler started a national rollout in May 2001, rival operators have predicted Blueheath’s demise. Yet, today, the business has 1,500 active trading customers, is on track for annualised sales of £80m and should achieve profitability early next year..
So what makes it different? For starters, retailers order all their goods online and, in the process, benefit from a two-way flow of information that includes personalised offers. Orders are collated and placed with suppliers using IT systems and sophisticated forecasting tools that allow Blueheath to run one national distribution centre on a virtually stockless basis. Then there’s the way in which products are sent to stores from 13 British Bakeries’ depots using vehicles that would otherwise be idle after their morning bread deliveries.
It’s the ultimate in lean thinking. As co-founder Douglas Gurr,explains: “We are all about reducing costs. We are automating everything we can, managing stock tightly and sharing assets.” The company has also developed a just-in-time model that makes use of many of the techniques and technologies used by multiple grocers (and a few they would like to get their hands on).
While independents remain at the heart of the company’s business, its strategy is evolving to include new growth areas such as the leisure sector and vending machine operators, as well as retail chains. It has already struck some impressive wins with forecourt operators Snax 24, Murco and Malthurst. Expect more deals to come.