Ian Smith has spent all his working life in the wholesale trade in London and Essex, starting more than 30 years ago with a business he ran with his father and brother at Bow, in the East End. 

He followed that up with stints at nearly all the major wholesalers in the area, including Bestway, TRS and AC Ward, before Dhamecha bought the Barking depot, where he was a buyer, in 1998.
After a stint managing Dhamecha’s depot in Islington, he became general manager back at the Barking depot in October 2001.

Not surprisingly, with such roots in the business, he has come to know many of his customers. “Some of them I’ve known for more than 30 years and they are personal friends,” he says.

“Being a depot manager is a very people-oriented job,” he adds. “You are constantly dealing with customers, suppliers and staff.”

With no foodservice provision within the cash and carry, Smith’s customers are virtually all retailers. “There’s a wide variety, from small corner shops and off-licences up to quite large convenience stores, and they come from a wide area, as far away as the Kent and Sussex coast.”

The more distant customers may only visit once a week or once a fortnight, but most customers average two or three visits a week and some come in every day.

There are several factors that are important in attracting customers, he says. “Pricing is very important, but we also aim to give good service and, especially with some customers coming from so far away, availability is something we pride ourselves on.”

Availability is helped by the amount of storage available at the 120,000 sq ft depot. With lots of storage space on the depot’s very high shelving and extra stocks of soft drinks and beer in a holding area, he says that they are able to cope better than most if a sudden hot spell leads to a surge in sales.

With five depots in the London area, Dhamecha can also move stock between them if stocks at one depot run low.

One of the aspects of his job Smith values most is the autonomy he is given by head office in running the depot, and he ensures that members of his team are given as much freedom as possible to take decisions affecting their areas.

The depot’s team of three buyers is able to do deals with retailers and even staff working in the aisles are given responsibility for their areas.

During his time in the business, Smith says he has lost count of the number of times he has read about someone writing off the prospects of the independent retail sector and wholesalers, but he says they have all been proved wrong.

“There may be fewer shops, but the remaining ones are bigger and the sector is just as strong now as it was 30 years ago,” he says.