One of London’s leading licensed wholesalers sees the on-trade and a delivered service as important ways of growing the business

Tales of doom and gloom about independent off licences driven out of business by the relentless price-slashing of the multiples on booze are all too familiar, admits the co-director of one of London’s leading licensed wholesalers.

“I read about this all the time,” says Kali Mulchandani, co-director of Imperial Cash & Carry. “But our business has seen growth year-on-year for the past 15 years. I don’t know how to explain it.”

Indeed, business has been so buoyant lately - Imperial posted double digit growth this year and aims to boost turnover from £39m to £50m in the next - that it has just pumped £4m into a spanking
new depot.

The new site, just around the corner from the last one on Eley Trading Estate in Edmonton, is 50% larger, at 45,000 sq ft, and Mulchandani is confident he can get a return on his investment.

Currently, about 10% of his business is with the on-trade - the biggest growth opportunity, says Mulchandani.

“On-trade wholesalers are very expensive - but they do deliver and they give good service.

“This is a particular opportunity for us if we can provide that service as well.”

Having sounded out his customers over the last few months, Mulchandani is confident there is a demand for a delivered service - and that the extra trade it will bring will justify the cost. Work is already progressing on an online ordering service and deliveries will start with selected customers on a trial basis in January or February, he predicts.

“A lot of our customers are very short of time and we already pick orders ready for some customers to pick up as they arrive,” he says. “So this is just the logical next step.”

The new depot stocks more products geared towards the on trade, and more space has been devoted to wine. “Traditionally, we have been strong on beer and spirits - but wine is the fastest growing category for us and we want to grow that a lot more.

“We also want to encourage customers to trade up. Probably 80-85% of our wines
currently retail at less than £5.” Pricing at Imperial is generally very competitive, he says, although the recent price-cutting at Asda on spirits as well as the usual offers on 24-packs of beer, is not good news. “It does worry us a bit, and Asda’s cuts came earlier than we expected, but most of the multiples tend to promote on large cases. They are actually still quite expensive on four-packs and 12-packs.

“This is only really a big issue at Christmas. We are very competitive for 11 months of the year.”

Perhaps more frustrating over the summer has been the tendency of some suppliers to shortchange their cash and carry customers when supplies were short due to the soaring temperatures rather than risk the wrath of the multiples, says Mulchandani.

“We did have some availability problems over the summer because of this. But not as many as some of our competitors. It is frustrating, but I suppose you can understand it from a supplier’s
The Mulchandanis set up a dairy business in the 1960s, and then moved into drinks retailing before opening their first cash and carry in Tottenham in 1987 as a founder member of the Today’s Group. They moved to larger premises in Edmonton in 1993 before their latest move to a 45,000 sq ft site on the same trading estate.

Today, the business is run by brothers Kali and John Mulchandani, although their father Ghanshamdas is still head cashier and provides a lot of input, says Kali.perspective because Tesco will fine you if you don’t come up with the goods.”
LOCATION18 Eley Road, Eley Industrial Estate, Edmonton.

RANGEBeers, wines, spirits, tobacco, impulse, confectionery, soft drinks.

SECURITYOnly registered customers are allowed in the car park. New customers must gain entry via the intercom system.

There are also 71 internal and external security cameras with digital recording and live pictures. “In the event of a crime,” says co-director John Mulchandani, “we have 30 days’ worth of recordings at any time, with excellent quality images”.

DESIGNBrighter, lighter, easier to navigate, with more displays and more space devoted to wines and catering ranges.

CUSTOMERS3,500 registered customers. Majority are Turkish. Most from north and east London.

PROMOTIONSRuns Today’s Group promotions every three weeks, plus own promotions and weekly manager’s specials.

SIZE45,000 sq ft, 50% larger than previous depot, with 26 staff.