Darren Goldney, Managing Director, Unitas Wholesale said:
There can be no denying the severity of the impact of Coronavirus on every sector and wholesale is no different. However, we recognise that wholesale plays a vital role in supporting small independent businesses.
We are working closely with our 172 wholesaler members who have diverse customer bases with differing degrees of impact. Stock availability is an issue for some, lack of customer demand and payment for others.
We know that independent businesses provide a lifeline to the communities they serve, including some of the most vulnerable in society, and I’m hopeful that suppliers recognise this. In fact, one of our stores, Day Today in Stenhousemuir, has been giving customers aged over 65 free face masks, antibacterial hand gel and cleaning wipes. Those who couldn’t make it into the store received a free parcel. It’s stores such as these that need support from suppliers to ensure that products are getting to those who need them most.
We’re also supporting our members’ retail customers. We have put together an information sheet advising them to make sure they are raising their awareness within the community, opening hours, range and availability – particularly of cleaning products and dry packaged groceries – through social media channels and consumer leaflets.
We have also produced posters for retailers to put up in store, offering reassurance to customers about how retailers are working with the local community to support them, delivering value and providing a safe shopping experience.
In our Out of Home magazines we are including advice for those in foodservice and the on-trade sector to adapt and evolve their offering during the pandemic.
We are also working with suppliers to ensure we offer value in the form of our business-to-business and business-to-consumer promotions because we know that neither retailers and consumers want to see any sudden inflation in pricing.
There is a clear need to be innovative and evolve our offering during these exceptional times. We have a very healthy secondary wholesale network between members, but in these exceptional circumstances, we are even talking with members about how wholesalers might share products across channel boundaries where foodservice or on-trade members that have over-stocks of certain food products could work with our more retail-focussed members to fill gaps. This approach doesn’t just end with product, it may be that resource such as vehicles and people could be shared if geography allows.
As the Coronavirus situation has developed, some of our members have seen their foodservice sales decrease while retail sales increase. For those foodservice members servicing pubs and restaurants, there is a decline in sales and to help, we are connecting members who need additional lines with those who are selling less as a result of the virus.
While we are endeavouring to support our customers the support we are asking for is to ensure parity of supply as many members are concerned the critical role in supplying remote communities and the vulnerable in society serviced through local stores may be missed as multiples are prioritised. Working through the thousands of small stores take pressure off these bottle necks too.
We are also working closely with the FWD and government to get financial support to wholesalers to help protect staff, and customers and indeed free up credit lines. ‘Wholesale’ is a broad term and this is especially critical based on a wholesalers’ customer base as there are very different emerging impacts.
This is very challenging for independent wholesale and wholesale generally, but we can play a critical role in keeping Britain moving.