Seven years ago, Bestway Group built on the success of its wholesale business Bestway Cash & Carry with the Best-One symbol group, and it hasn't looked back since. Best-One has soared to heights Red Bull would be proud of, and controller James Hall hopes to crack the £150m sales barrier this year. "We've grown in excess of 20% year on year every year apart from the first, when we grew by 40%," he enthuses.
"We have 680 stores and we're looking to make it 1,000 by January 2011."
About 50% of the retailers Best-One recruits are being won over from other symbol groups. "It's always nice to get a symbol group operator because all the training has been done and they know what they have to do," grins Hall, adding that this figure is up from 30% last year.
Hall maintains that Best-One's low-cost model is proving very attractive to c-store operators. "Retailers in other groups are asking themselves why they are having to pay extras," he explains. "Choosing a symbol group is a very price-driven decision and we're finding that retailers, like consumers, are shopping around for the best deal on the market."
With an annual charge of just £150, and no joining fee or head office surcharges, Hall claims to have an offer too good to refuse. "Best-One is probably the cheapest in terms of price of products we're about 2% cheaper and we carry about 1,000 more promotional lines than our nearest competitor. It's a good package."
A good package it may be, but it still has some way to go to become a great package. While Best One retailers can order most of their goods from Bestway Cash & Carry, some important categories still have to be sourced via third- party shipments.
C-Store tells Hall of a recent conversation with Bournemouth Best-One retailer Bulent Demirci, where he claimed that a wider range of chilled produce under Bestway's own-label brand Best-In was high on his wish list. "It's a big problem. If I was able to supply more chilled food through Bestway I would happily do so," Bulent told us.
Hall is already nodding before C-Store has finished repeating the exchange. "He's right," Hall says.
"The Best-In chilled range is an area we're looking into and the solution is not far away." Hall declines to explain further, but the twinkle in his eye indicates that plans are already well advanced in this area.
That's not all the group is "looking into", either. News and mags a problematic category that Bestway, in common with other grocery wholesalers, does not handle in-house is also under consideration. "It's a difficult market and it's one that we don't pretend to understand, but we know that at some point it needs harnessing," claims Hall. "I'm not sure that the retailer is getting the best deal from his news wholesaler. We need to look at how we as a business can influence that.
"It's an area that we are looking at, but it depends on member support," he continues. "We are talking to members to find out the best way to help them."
The fact that Bestway does not supply a comprehensive own label chilled range, or news & mags, means that Best-One only demands 70% spend from its retailers. Of course, Hall would like to increase this figure, but he accepts that this would only be the case if the group supplied the additional categories directly through Bestway. "If we did muster news and mags and chilled in the future, then we would definitely be looking at our loyalty factor. I'd like to say we could achieve 100% but, realistically, if we were able to drive loyalty to 85%, I think we'd have done really well."
Another area in which retailer loyalty is a key focal point is promotions. "Consumers are looking for value and retailers need to ensure they are delivering this," he states. "We have one of the highest compliance rates in the business with 70% of Best-One retailers following our promotional programme. Sales of our promotional lines are 35% up year on year."
While Best-One promotions run in four-week cycles, retailers can also make use of Bestway Cash & Carry promotions. Hall is particularly excited about the wholesaler's new Magic Circle lines. There are six planned for this year and they are being specially "enhanced" for Best-One stores.
The group's retailers also have access to additional promotions via Best-One's website, which launched at the end of last year. "We'll be doing a lot more development along those lines in the future it's becoming a very strong medium," says Hall. "We have about 100 retailers ordering through the website on a regular basis. Sales are probably about the £270,000- £280,000 a week mark."
The website has also been a useful way of getting retailers on board, he claims. "We have 4,500 visits a month and 10,000 hits a day. It's been a strong recruitment tool for us. I'd say 60% of our recruitment is done through the web."
As well as reaching out to retailers, the website has a consumer-facing section where shoppers can check out the latest deals and services available at Best-One stores, such as mobile top-ups, lottery and ATMs.
But while Best-One fully utilises the internet, Hall isn't a fan of all advertising mediums. "Radio and TV advertising is not efficient," he says flatly. "The best way for a retailer to talk to his consumer is through leaflets. That's my gut instinct. If you've got a catchment area of a mile, you've got a much better chance of them picking up a leaflet you've dropped through the door, rather than hoping that they may be watching TV when an advert is aired."
Apart from a small delivery fee, all Best-One leaflets are free for retailers, and Hall wants to further improve them by adding more consumer incentives such as 'visit your store and have the chance to win an ipod'. "We're giving our retailers all the weapons to market themselves on a local basis," he says.
The effectiveness of all Best-One promotions is closely monitored by the group's business development executives (BDEs), who make regular visits to each retailer. The field force has been seriously ramped up in recent months, with team numbers doubling to 35. "We've gone back to basics," says Hall. "We make sure retailers are visited on a four-weekly basis to ensure that the core range is there, promotions are working, our drop-shipment suppliers are all represented, and that consumers are getting the best deal."
The group has also restructured in line with its growth plans. "We've split the country into three," explains Hall. "There's a Northern regional manager, a Midlands and Kent regional manager, and a South and South West regional manager. Whereas before everyone reported to me, the BDEs now report into their regional managers."
Hall is confident that enlarging his field team was a positive move. "A lot of our competitors will say that once they've signed a retailer they never see them again. We concentrate on making sure we keep contact with our retailers. We're quite hands-on business-wise."
In fact, the only regret Hall seems to have is that he didn't put his plan into action sooner. "The structure we have now with the additional field reps was a plan that we were going to put into place a year earlier," he says. "When the recession began, we put things on hold. My regret is that we didn't recruit more people into the sales team beforehand."
Lesson learnt, Hall is full of ambition about taking the business forward. "Our average turnover is about £15,000. Do we see that increasing? Yes, I hope so. Will we get into bigger and better businesses? Yes, I hope so. Are we looking at more multi-sites? Yes it's all on the agenda."