Blakemore Wholesale's depot in the heart of Wolverhampton is the nerve centre of the Landmark Wholesale member's cash and carry operation. A major depot in its own right, it is also home to the head offices of Blakemore Wholesale, making it not just its flagship depot but also a handy test bed for most of the group's new initiatives.
As such, Wolverhampton is anything but your typical cash and carry. The depot is bright and modern, having replaced an older warehouse on the other side of town three-and-a-half years ago.
It has more of a retail atmosphere than a traditional wholesaler; there are no vast dark aisles with endless brown cardboard boxes, instead Blakemore has merchandised all of its aisle ends with coloured lights and like any good retail outlet these high footfall areas are utilised as promotional ends.
In fact, the 75,000sq ft depot has the feel of a giant hypermarket, with huge supplier advertising displayed around the ceiling to help drive awareness of the key brands that independent retailers cannot do without. Another touch is the manager's office, which is located behind the latest Lifestyle Express Hot House fascia from the Landmark buying group.
All this helps manager Simon Richards feel at home; he joined Blakemore just over a year ago after spending three years with German discount retailer Aldi.
"It is certainly a real change from Aldi," Richards says, reflecting on his move to the wholesale side of the market. "With wholesale the customers are real experts. They know what they need, what they want and how much they want to pay for it."
Likewise, Richards has a clear idea of what he wants to achieve at the depot. He wants to grow the number of members in the retail club. By doing so this will increase the proportion of goods that retailers buy at the depot and thus drive volume.
He has set a turnover target of £20m per year and hopes to drive the average weekly sales to £500,000.
It currently fluctuates between £400,000 and £440,000.
He is confident this goal can be achieved within the next year. "Things are doing very well. We are achieving our budget and the number of retailers joining the club is encouraging. Sales are definitely heading in the right direction."
Just as the retail feel is important to Richards, so too is getting the depot layout right. He is always looking at areas where he can make improvements such as the floor, the lighting or the entrance area, which as well as housing some of the key promotions also contains street furniture and fresh plants and flowers.
"I think it's about 90% right at the moment," he claims. "Of course, it's always good to keep on top of what is and what's not selling."
What really sets this depot apart is the colour and the innovation at every turn. Every area is clearly marked out with large, colourful signs, from the fresh fruit and veg aisle to the frozen food and the butchery and fish counter.
The fresh fruit and veg fixture is the centrepiece of the depot and draws the eye instantly. Richards acknowledges that he will never get through really big volumes of fresh produce as most c-store owners will get these sort of products delivered.
Despite this, he says, it's is good
to have as it is a steady line for those retailers who are looking for small volumes.
A key fixture this year has been alcohol. The World Cup married with the hot weather during the summer was a massive driver. It helped deliver a 38% rise in sales, explains Richards, who is now looking to continue that growth into the Christmas period.
"The summer was fantastic for beers and cider. We had great success with Magners, which was really flying off the shelves," he adds.
Wine sales were also impressive thanks to some interesting innovation on the display front. During the summer the group began trialling individual bottles of wine at the premium end of the market. The idea, says Richards, is that small retailers can maximise their sales with a good choice of wine without having to risk shelling out for a full case when they may sell only two or three bottles over a long period.
High class
Blakemore has combined this need with some innovative displays. The specially created wine racks offer a quality presentation which wouldn't be out of place in an upmarket specialist. At the same time they are slimline and take up very little floor space while creating a real point of difference.
Wolverhampton was chosen as the place to try it because of the link with head office. The wine racks are situated directly underneath a viewing gallery from which top brass can inspect all that takes place on the depot floor.
"It's great for us," argues Richards. "We get everything first and the company is always looking to try new things to offer independent retailers."
Having something new to shout about is a great benefit, particularly in Wolverhampton. This part of the West Midlands has a very high density of independent retailers and cash and carry is the dominant method of supply. As such, Richards explains that there is no shortage of competition locally. Within the Wolverhampton and Walsall area alone Blakemore must compete with national operators Booker and Bestway, as well as local rival East End Foods.
It is this competition that makes boosting the retail club at the depot such a key job. Richards agrees that many independents still drive from depot to depot in search of the best deals, so coaxing them into becoming more loyal to Blakemore is still a difficult task.
This, he says, is why it is key to have as good a range of offers as possible. That way, retailers can clearly see the value that they can
get through a greater commitment to the depot.
good relations
Richards also acknowledges that building good customer relations is critical and something that he has tried to instill into the 40 depot staff. "It's always good to have some banter with the retailers when they come into the depot, and building a rapport is a great way of keeping customers," he suggests.
"Of course, most of the retailers who come in are looking for the best prices, but good customer care can also go a long way to making sure that they keep coming back."