Commitment pays off

As manager of ethnic food specialist TRS Wholesale’s Southall cash and carry in London, Kirit Joshi doesn’t get much time off. A six-and-a-half day working week, 8am-8pm opening including Easter and Christmas, and the occasional phone call at 3am when the alarm has accidentally been set off are par for the course for this busy depot boss. Luckily, he says, he has an understanding wife and family.

It’s just as well. He has devoted 28 years to the TRS business, founded in 1959 by Taherally Rehmanji Suterwalla. Working his way up from the accounts department through buying, where he was right-hand man to family member Mansoor Suterwalla, Joshi is now in charge of a 77,000 sq ft depot and 170 staff. 

The pay-off for this hard work, he says, is the chance to work for a well-respected, friendly family business. The company ethos, laid out by TR Suterwalla in those early days, is still true today: commitment to quality, a willingness to travel the world in search of authentic products and a close family connection. Suterwalla’s five sons Iqbal, Siraj, Fakhruddin, Hatim and Mansoor now run the business, which is ranked 22 in The Grocer Big 30 wholesalers ranking with sales of £117m. 

While the business has suffered a 6% decline in sales thanks to the closure of one of its three depots, the Southall depot is building its customer base.

“We have 4,000 customers coming from a wide area,” explains Joshi. “People come from the local area as well as from Slough, Reading and as far away as Leicester and Birmingham. We even have customers from France, Germany and Belgium who come across on the 8am ferry, load up and then go back that day.” 

The draw for all these customers is TRS’s strong own label offer. The TRS brand drives some 80% of sales and includes Indian pulses, spices and rice as well as the Shan range of curry mixes, exotic fruits from China and Thailand and a new range from Poland. A wholesale warehouse alongside the C&C receives five or six containers a day from across the world and cleans and packs the product before pushing about a third of output into TRS’s C&C depots. A further 30% or so goes to other UK operations, including Tesco, while 40% is exported.

The Southall depot is split physically between the ethnic offer and what Joshi calls English. The latter is predominantly bought through Landmark, with whom TRS has dealt for 10 years. Landmark’s promotions are another big draw.
Keeping an eye on availability is one challenge for the year ahead, as is the fact his customers are increasingly getting hit by the multiples’ convenience strategy. Otherwise, says Joshi in his matter of fact way, 2006 will be business as usual.