Family man stays on top

He is the manager of a 125,000 sq ft depot, dealing with a customer base of more than 3,000 different retailers, caterers, and petfood suppliers.

But Anton James, manager of the Batleys depot in Southampton, says that being a daddy to his new baby boy is the most taxing job of all. "Nothing or nobody can prepare you for it," he laughs.

As it happens, business at Batleys is also very much a family affair. The company has been running since 1958, when Lawrence Batley opened the UK's first cash and carry depot in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.
Four decades later, the wholesaler has 18 depots across the UK. And according to James it has managed to retain strong links with the Batley family, despite a takeover worth an estimated £100m last January by Bestway, ranked fourth in The Grocer's Big 30 wholesaler rankings.

James himself began his career as an administrator at Nurdin & Peacock in 1989 before Booker snapped up the wholesaler for £264m.

"I was promoted to the post of general manager of Booker's Isle of Wight depot before being poached by Batleys and I have been here ever since," he says.

James has managed Batleys' Southampton branch, its only depot on the south coast, for more than six years.
In that time, sales at the site have gone from strength to strength. In fact, its growth figures put it among the company's top-performing depots, with customers flocking from miles around.

A typical working day for James begins at around 6.30 in the morning and runs until the same time at night. He tries to spend as many hours as possible on the shop floor, mingling with his customers and staff. "My customers come first," he says. "They like to see me on the shop floor, and I like to be there, it's so important."

Indeed, he is on first-name terms with employees and retailers alike and this easy rapport makes for a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

But he doesn't just tie himself to the depot. James also makes time each week to visit his customers in their various outlets. "Visiting customers is another really important part of the job," he says. "It helps to build relationships, and gives me a better idea of their needs and requirements."

Batleys proudly boasts of its strict trade-only policy, refusing to deal with anyone but independents and the Southampton depot is no exception, stocking more than 25,000 lines in key categories, including top brands.

James says that a further source of success has been the introduction of an exclusive range of own label products under Bestway's Best-in brand, which are proving to be a massive hit with the depot's customers.