If you see Anton James limping around his depot over the next couple of weeks it could be because he successfully completed the London Marathon and raised £5,000 for the Against Breast Cancer charity.
And even if he didn’t complete the marathon, which is being held tomorrow (Sunday), the training should make this general manager at Batleys Southampton depot more than fit enough to cope with the pressure of running a 120,000 sq ft site, which includes a 70,000 sq ft cash and carry for independent grocers and foodservice customers, plus a 30,000 sq ft petfood warehouse.
The depot is in Booker heartland but James knows the competition better than most. He worked for 15 years at Nurdin & Peacock and then Booker depots in the Isle of Wight, Eastleigh and Portsmouth before joining Batleys in May 2000 - just two weeks after Batleys introduced a delivered wholesale operation from the
depot. The new service has attracted new customers, represents 20% of the business and is growing because more retailers want to spend time in their shops rather than at the cash and carry, says James.
To cater for this increase in demand, Batleys has invested in buying an18 tonne delivery vehicle to replace one of its two 7.5 tonne trucks. James also plans to grow the cash and carry business by attracting more customers from the competition. But despite his belief that his depot has a larger range of goods, better service levels - “we’ve not cut back on personnel,” he says - and better availability than the competition, winning new customers has not been easy.
“The hardest thing is to encourage retailers to break the habit of visiting their regular depot. I know the retailers very well from my time at Booker, but they still don’t come across to Batleys,” says James.
He has also had to deal with greater competition from the supermarkets. He says his depot, and his customers, get caught in the crossfire between the major multiples - particular over Christmas and especially on beer prices.
But he has seen the cash and carry trade adapt to the changes over the last 15 years, moving from a ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ approach to a focus on presentation and service.