Hancocks' cash & carry runs a campaign for independents called Don't Follow the Sheep encouraging them to adopt a different approach to confectionery retailing. It is a mantra the confectionery supplier subscribes to itself. In the world of grocery wholesale, where the majority of retailers have worked to position themselves as a one-stop shop, Hancocks is ploughing a very different furrow. The company, established in 1962, has almost exclusively dealt in confectionery for the past four decades. It did sell cigarettes for a period, but decided the margins weren't good enough. The approach is paying dividends - profit is up 45% year-on-year, according to its latest accounts, while turnover is up 2.9%. "We are focused on one category and being a one-trick pony means we know what sells and what doesn't," says CEO Andrew Hancock. "We can give retailers advice about confectionery that other people can't." Hancocks' success in recent years has been down to its confectionery expertise and its ability to work the market in its favour. If the multiples decide to go one way, whether it be deep discounting during the key seasonal periods or placing greater emphasis on the major confectionery brands, it takes an almost diametrically opposed approach to give its independent customers something different. Its Don't Follow the Sheep campaign encourages independent retailers to sell own-label products as well as big brands. Its pick 'n' mix range, which consists of more than 300 different lines, is selling well, says Hancock, and has become a must for any store operating near a school. "We have gone for lines that are different for occasions such as Easter and Christmas so we don't compete with the cut-price brands of the multiples," he says. "The price of Easter eggs has been cut to pieces this year and this knocks the confidence of the independents, but we are showing them that they can still do well at Easter. We consistently talk to suppliers and ask them to make products exclusively for the independent sector. So while the multiples take the value out of Easter, we try to put it back." Easter was a success for Hancocks, which says there was no residual stock despite the unusual brevity of the holiday. The company is keen not to let momentum slip. This month it is offering customers tips on how to grow their business. It is working with suppliers to develop new products under its Kiddysway and Hancocks brands to fulfil the demands of the independents. It has also removed artificial flavours and colours from many of its products following calls from retailers. And when a new product comes in the company picks up the phone to invite retailers to come and have a look, so they can keep up to speed with developments. "We have been in the business for 45 years. We know our customers' needs and we have a personal service," says Hancock. "Our relationships with our customers are very important. We have a strong relationship with suppliers, who talk to us about new products, and we talk to our customers." It's an approach that has so far worked for Hancocks, whose turnover is hovering at £85m. But with the aim of reaching £100m in time to celebrate its golden anniversary in 2012, the cash & carry admits it will have to open more sites as well as get more customers through the door. If a new depot is successful it usually adds £3m to £5m in turnover to the business, according to Hancock, so the company may need to open two or three within the next four years to hit its target. It won't be straightforward, however. Hancocks operates 15 depots across the UK, but has only opened one new site since 2002, partly because it has struggled to find suitable sites. "We have a number of boxes we need to tick and this can make it difficult to find places," says Hancock. One of Hancocks' main stipulations for any new site is that it is close to an existing grocery cash & carry to attract retailers making their regular rounds, a position that it says is beneficial for both parties. Companies have even phoned up to complain when it has positioned itself next to a rival instead of them, says Hancock. About 80% of its customers come from a 20-mile radius. There are still gaps in the south east and north east of England, so these are the most likely areas for expansion. If it can find the sites it will no doubt continue to enjoy the sweet taste of success. n