Depot numbers: 33
Turnover: £1.1bn
Growth year-on-year: N/A
Type of operation: cash & carry

Which wholesaler sold 400,000 TVs last year, is one of the UK's biggest retailers of vacuum cleaners but also has a range of fresh fish to rival Billingsgate market? You may be surprised to learn that the answer is Makro.

Even Makro customers would be surprised, admits the wholesaler. Though 92% of people have heard of the company, only 76% know what it sells, according to in-house research. Hannes Floto, Makro UK MD, is particularly aggrieved that shoppers compare the offer to Costco's.

“This is like comparing Tesco with Aldi because we are completely different from Costco,” says. “It is good that people know about us, but we need to be known for different things. We need to be known for our everyday offer rather than just our non-food bargains.”

To tackle this, the company is embarking on a campaign to raise its profile and let people know that it is strong in both food and non food. It will be sending out Professional Catering Catalogues to its more than 225,000 catering customers to highlight the breadth of its offer.

The company has also identified 22 specific customer groups and meets each group twice a year to discuss what each looks for in a wholesaler.

“Every C&C is going after caterers and we see catering as a real growth category,” says Floto. “It is a big part of our business and we want to grow this significantly.”

The company is also revamping its stores as part of a multimillion pound refurbishment programme with a new look that includes improved fixtures, new signage, more than 1,000 extra lines and a particular focus on fresh produce. It started refurbishing stores in November 2005 but last month revealed that its entire 33-strong portfolio would get a makeover during the next five years, including becoming more environmentally friendly.

It wants to use customer feedback in the revamp of its depots and is recruiting customer relationship managers in each of its depots to quiz customers and report their findings back to Makro headquarters. The company's store in Rayleigh, Essex, was refurbished in November last year. Following customer feedback, it now plans to make the household sections of its Birmingham and Glasgow depots 30-40% bigger than Rayleigh's when they're refurbished.

The Rayleigh store has also been styled so that different sections have a 'shop within a shop' feature. Rather than aisles for each section, products are located in square concession-like areas of the store.

“These layouts are based on how customers want to shop,” says Floto. “Customers do not want to wander all over the store. They want to go straight to the area they need and buy their products.”
Customers have reacted positively to Makro's new strapline 'Your business partner every day', launched last month, according to Floto.

“We worked through many ideas but settled on this because a partner can mean so many things - trust, loyalty, help,” he says.

“We want to grow this relationship with customers for their everyday needs.”

Makro believes its unique selling point is being able to offer customers all they need under one roof. But arguably its biggest advantage is the buying clout it gets from its German parent company Metro Group, which operates in 29 countries. Makro UK is keen to utilise the group's sizeable network of buyers.

Metro Group has a worldwide team of 10,000 buyers and their expertise spreads far beyond their national boundaries. One of the company's UK buyers is an expert in whisky, for example, and helps group operations across the world stock the most suitable ranges for different consumers. The group's French operations also supply produce to Michelin-starred restaurants and Makro UK plans to use this knowledge to provide better fresh food for UK chefs.

Floto intends to make more use of local knowledge throughout the group. “The big advantage of this is that we are always able to offer the best products,” he says. “We are planning to expand our range of 180 Polish products soon and have called on our Polish colleagues for advice.”

As for expansion across its property portfolio, the company remains more cautious. “We want to get everything right before moving into new waters,” says Floto. “This does not mean we won't open new depots but our focus is on our refurbishment