A little over a year on from its relaunch in April 2006, business is booming at Bestway's newest London depot in Hackney.
A redevelopment has brought the Hackney branch into the 21st century for the wholesaler, which had occupied the shell of the former Claremont cash and carry since 1983. Now with a specially designed warehouse on the site, the brighter and more spacious depot better caters for the Bestway range and its customers, according to store manager Sajid Mahmood.
"It's been great business since our opening week and we're growing day by day," he explains. "We fortunately retained most of our customers despite a temporary move to Bow. If we did lose a few we've made up for it with the fresh business the new depot attracted."
Sajid, who's worked at Bestway for 14 years, is confident his customers are happy with what the depot has to offer. He's also quick to stress, however, the importance of interaction with his customers to ensure this remains the case.
"I always try to be approachable," he says. "I like to spend a lot of time on the cash and carry floor and don't want to be stuck out the back like some managers. It means I have a good chance to meet customers and discuss any problems they may have and discuss their views. There are complaints every now and then, so it's sometimes good and sometimes bad! It certainly keeps me and the management team in touch with what's going on."
Sajid says that while Hackney Bestway is a lot smaller than many depots, it's performing better per square metre than many larger outlets.
Additional shelving has recently been added to aisle ends and storage space for an extra 140 pallets has been achieved by introducing bridging sections between aisles.
The depot's location has a major part to play in its success, says Sajid. "Our location is great. We attract customers from the City as well as closer in East London. We're in a heavily populated area with a lot of shops which helps, of course. We cater for a wide range of customers from c-stores and CTNs, to off licences and caterers. A lot of symbol group retailers also choose to top up when they need something instantly."
In fact, the depot's custom stretches much further than its immediate surrounding area. One customer regularly makes the long journey across the channel from Belgium to stock up on products for his three English stores back home.
Sajid is well aware, though, that a good location is worth nothing without offering the range his customers expect to find. "Stock availability is absolutely the key to success," he says. "It's the only real reason customers are in. If just two or three items on their list are missing they will give up and go to another cash and carry. Bestway has got a very good range and the majority of customers come here for their main shop. Every single customer and every product is important to us and it's vital we provide what they're looking for."
Promotions play a major role in catering to the demands of independent retailers, says Sajid. "A Pimm's promotion has been doing pretty well with customers stocking up for the albeit delayed summer," he says. "Retailers get four cans free with every case they buy. We've also got special prices on Lucozade and Evian at the moment. We switch around the offers every three weeks and as all of our customers are registered with us, they all get information in the post ahead of the promotions taking place in the depot. For a promotion to work it obviously needs to be a good deal, but it also needs to be backed up by a good eye-catching display."
Following current trends, the depot's fresh and chilled section is also enjoying good sales. "We have a section in the chilled area which showcases any new lines," he says. "Fresh and chilled products are becoming more and more popular in convenience stores and we've got to make sure we cater for the demand.
"We've also got a specialist Polish food section to match a growing demand."
Sajid adds that while the depot does not currently have a huge fresh produce section it's also a growth area that can't be ignored. "Our fresh produce section is growing slowly as we have a lot of fresh fruit and veg markets in the area," he says. "Nevertheless, I'm certain the range we offer will increase over the next few years."
Sajid has got to know his customers very well over the years. Some will visit daily and others come on a weekly or twice weekly basis and he can almost predict their arrival down to the minute.
"Every customer has their set times when they come in, so we soon notice when someone hasn't visited," he says. "They are all very loyal. They know us and we know them. Some customers have been coming here for 15 years or more."
Sajid explains that he appreciates that retailers are hard-working people with little time to relax. It's important then, he says, that their time at the depot is as stress-free as possible. "A few words to check how customers are can make a real difference," he says. "Interaction with our customers is extremely important to the business. Most wave goodbye as they leave. It's good to know a huge majority leave happy."
As with all cash and carries, security is a major priority at the Hackney depot. There's a constant security presence on the door, all vehicle registrations are recorded and a high- quality CCTV system is in place.
Sajid says: "Crime and, in particular, robberies are unfortunately quite commonplace in cash and carries. We do everything we can to make sure our customers are safe. If they feel they or their stock is not safe then they won't visit. Security on the door helps with safety in the car park and another way we ensure extra security in the depot is by having a separate alarmed area for high-value goods such as cigarettes, spirits and wine."
Competition from rival cash and carries is not a big issue for Sajid. "We've got Booker and Dhamecha depots reasonably close, but we're doing very well and don't see them as a big threat as there is big enough demand for a number of cash and carries in the area. It's obviously important that we continue to offer a good deal, though," he adds.
Competition from the multiples, however, is causing problems and he's hopeful the current Competition Commission inquiry into the grocery market will lead to some changes. "I'd like to see the Competition Commission inquiry have an effect," he says. "A lot of independents are really suffering and their profit margins are dropping. The multiples are giving them a really tough time by constantly cutting their prices. There needs to be equal opportunities for all retailers. We can only continue to do well if independent retailers thrive. I do feel, though, that if they work hard there's still a lot of business out there for them."
Sajid is quick to add that nothing the Hackney depot has achieved so far would be possible without the hard work and back-up of his staff. "I've got excellent support from my
assistant managers and a great staff team," he says. "The staff are the ones who really make things happen. We wouldn't be anywhere without them."
Size: 80,000sq ft
Total staff: 80
Management team: 12
Hours: Mon-Fri 7.30am-8pm; Sat-Sun 8am-4pm
Paresh Patel, Mace Express, Bow
"I've been using this depot for the past 18 years and come here at least twice a week to stock up on alcohol and groceries. It's close to my store which is a huge advantage, especially when I'm really busy and don't have much time on my hands. The depot has always had a good range of special offers and deals, too, which is an added bonus."
Rezzwan Noor, Flash 24 Off Licence, Bethnal Green
"The staff here put in a huge amount of effort to ensure the depot is always clean and welcoming, which really sets it apart from other places that I've used in the past. I'm also really impressed with the flooring - it's very smooth and has no cracks or potholes. It makes it so much easier to push a trolley around. Wide aisles also make it easier to manoeuvre a heavy trolley full of goods."
Yousef Gullali, Max Newsagents, Hackney
"I've been in business for the past 18 years and have visited this depot for the best part of that time.
I come here about two or three times a week and have got to know the staff and the managers very well as a result. They're a fantastic bunch and are always on hand to help their customers, no matter how busy they are."
mr singh, cc2 news, hackney
"I come here because it's just a few hundred yards from my store and is so convenient for me. The depot also has a wide range of goods and has excellent parking facilities, which is quite rare for an inner city depot. Security is also quite tight, which gives me peace of mind."
peter jaworski, gourmet food and eats, belgium
"I run three English food and drink stores in Belgium and travel to this depot from Belgium every Tuesday to stock up on goods. I've been making this journey for the past six years now. It's a very friendly place - the staff are easily accessible and the manager is always on hand for a chat or to offer advice and help. There's also a large choice of
Terry nevill, terry's off licence, Hackney
"The depot is well managed and offers all the goods I need at really low prices. I visit at least once a day - sometimes even twice if we are really busy as I don't have a vast amount of back-room space to store lots of goods. I'm also impressed by the checkout system - it's very efficient, which is vital when you are pushed for time."