The devil is in the detail, they say, and a few hours with the eponymous founder of oriental food wholesaler Wing Yip reveals that nowhere is this more true than at its Cricklewood outlet in north London. Builders are completing the first phase in the redevelopment of the store. But as he walks across the site, Yip is unhappy with the height of the entry foyer. "I have told them to raise the ceiling," he says. "It is too low. We want customers to come into a cheerful space when they enter."
This attention to detail is typical of the man in charge of the 30th-ranked wholesaler in our most recent Big 30. The redevelopment of the Cricklewood outlet marks the latest phase in the company's development. When the project is completed, by summer 2007, the store will have tripled in size to 64,000 sq ft and it will employ 100 workers, 40 more than at present. The first phase, which will be complete by the end of this month, creates new selling and cold storage space and a 150-car underground garage with 12ft ceilings to accommodate trade vehicles.
In the second phase, much of the existing selling space will become a Chinese restaurant. Also being added are a business centre and more wholesale selling space, including a franchised stationery store and fish counter. The exterior will be decorated with handmade tiles imported from China and is likely to become a striking landmark on the Edgware Road.
Yip says that the company adopted the franchise approach to fish and stationery because he believes it should focus on its strengths. Wing Yip specialises strictly in oriental and ethnic groceries for restaurants and catering businesses, which make up 85% of its customer base and 95% of turnover. The company does not stock mainstream dairy and bread staples. Yip says: "The first thing I do when I hire new managers is to tell them: 'Please don't try to turn Wing Yip into a Tesco. We must stay in our niche'."
Wip Yip operates four cash and carry supermarkets in: Manchester, Birmingham, Croydon and Cricklewood. Its turnover of £79m in 2006 was 6.8% more than the previous year. Yip
expects the Cricklewood redevelopment to swell those numbers considerably, though he will not be drawn on his targets. "Anything I would tell you would be pulled out of thin air", he says, "but we are confident it will be profitable."
Yip says the Cricklewood redevelopment was driven by his observation that the store was generating turnover disproportionate to its size, as well as an assessment of its catchment area. Cricklewood is in a densely populated corner of north-west London, featuring many second and third generation middle-class immigrant families.
Even the presence of a Bestway depot directly across the street has not affected sales. Bestway has been growing aggressively for the past few years and has so far been rebuffed in its bid to acquire Nisa-Today's, in which Wing Yip is a member. Yip declines to express an opinion on the Nisa-Today's situation, but says Bestway has not made any approach for his company directly.
Yip says his company's core Chinese product lines continue to grow slowly but steadily. Sales of spices and sauces for other oriental foods, particularly Malaysian, Filipino and Thai, are growing faster than Chinese foods. To build on this, the company has hosted
regular live Malaysian cooking demonstrations over the past three years. The series, continuing this autumn, is
operated by the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation.
Another area in which the company has seen strong growth is sales to Afro-Caribbean and Middle Eastern communities. Yip points out, however, that the bulk of the product lines span these different cuisines. "The staples are quite similar: rice, oils, flour, vegetables. Even some of the spices are similar. What is different is the sauces and the method of cooking. So we are well positioned to build on growth in these areas." He adds: "We shouldn't call this an 'oriental cash and carry' anymore. We should call it 'international cash and carry', because that is what it really is now."
Wing Yip is continuing with growth plans across the country. Once the Cricklewood site is completed, the company will begin construction of its fifth outlet on a site it has already acquired in Cardiff. A sixth superstore is planned for Nottingham in 2008 and the company is in the process of deciding on its precise location.n