Mustafa Kiamil and his son Rifat are proof of what can happen when an electrical engineer and an IT whizz manage a foodservice wholesaler. Peter Cripps meets them

Sitting behind the wheel of his electric truck, Mustafa Kiamil is like a child with a new toy.

"It can do 80 miles on a single charge, so it's brilliant for delivering goods within cities," he says. "It's so powerful it can do a wheel spin and we have even had to put a device on it to limit its speed."

Kiamil, the MD of JJ Food Service and winner of this year's Wholesaler of the Year gong at The Grocer Gold Awards, claims the 7.5-tonne electric truck is the first to be used by a major foodservice provider. The vehicle, which was introduced in August, has already helped win a contract to deliver to the Houses of Parliament, which was keen to source its food from a green supplier, and Kaimil is confident such technological improvements will help turn JJ into a £1bn wholesaler over the next decade.

Parity with market leaders Brakes and 3663 First For Foodservice may sound like a lofty ideal, but JJ is certainly going in the right direction, with pre-tax profits of £8.3m on turnover of £127.9m in the year ending March 2009. And it's all thanks to the hard work of Kiamil and his son Rifat, an IT engineer, who have spent the past four years overhauling the company and putting technology at the heart of the business. Cannily, they have done so without shelling out vast sums of money.

Kiamil developed the truck from an old diesel vehicle at a cost of £25,000 significantly less than the £40,000 he would have paid for a new diesel truck. "I used to drive a milk float in North London 30 years ago, so I knew the technology was there," says Kiamil, a trained electrical engineer.

Now the vehicle is up and running, he hopes to develop another nine. His son has also developed new software that allows stock to be ordered and controlled more efficiently, and a new system for sales staff that recognises the telephone numbers of 80% of customers when they call, saving an estimated 1,500 hours a year previously wasted recording their details. As both innovations were developed in-house, the company didn't have to pay software companies saving yet more money.

The online side of the business has been developed to maximise its potential, too. JJ is the only foodservice provider in The Grocer's Big 30 wholesalers to have a live ordering system. Customers can not only pay online, but can see exactly what's in stock at any time and pre-order goods before picking them up at the depot Argos-style. The wholesaler has been driving customers online by offering 10% discounts for website orders for most of 2009.

And there's more in the pipeline. The Kiamils' next move will be to fit delivery trucks with devices that ring customers when they are near to give them advance warning of the trucks' arrival. "My engineering background has never really left me and perhaps that's what gives me the confidence to run and develop our own systems," says Kiamil. "And my son Rifat and his IT department really give us the edge. We like to be at the forefront of things it helps us drive our prices down and give our customers a better service."

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