Robinson Young has made a name for itself as on of the UK’s largest specialist non-food distributors, winning the Landmark Non- Food Supplier of The Year Award in 2015 and outright Supplier of The Year in 2016. Among the brands it represents are ACE, Zoflora, Scotchguard, Wilkinson Sword and Bodyform.
Robinson Young’s Managing Director, Michael Robinson spoke exclusively to Wholesale Manager.
Wholesale Manager – What relation are you to the Robinson in Robinson Young?
I’m the son. My father David Robinson, previously Sales Director at Jeyes, set the company up in 1972. I joined in 1985 from Beefeater Gin and took over running the business.
WM – What does your role as MD involve day to day? Do you personally work with the brands you represent?
I’m pretty hands-on! I spend time with the brand managers and get involved with overviewing the strategy and have meetings with larger clients. It’s important in this business that the CEO does have understanding.
WM – How much time do you spend in the field?
I go out with the sales team. I like to get out and see how it is.
WM – How are you set up to service wholesalers?
Our field sales team covers the UK and Northern Ireland. They are home based and call on individual wholesalers, selling in promotions and new products, looking after accounts and taking orders.
WM – Do you do any direct calls to independents? How about supermarkets?
We don’t call on the independents directly, but we do supply some products to supermarkets and liaise with their head offices.
WM – Where are you based?
We’re based in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk and our Territory Managers cover the whole UK.
WM – How big is your turnover?
Our turnover is £40m or thereabouts, currently growing at just over 5% annually. Some of our brands are in double-digit growth.
WM – You have four divisions – Household, Health/Beauty, Stationery, Catering/Foodservice nonfood. Which ones are growing fastest?
Health & Beauty is growing fastest and offers a lot of opportunity.
Household has the largest turnover.
WM – You won two Landmark Awards, Non Food supplier of the Year 2015 and the overall Supplier of the Year 2016. That’s quite an achievement. What does it mean for the company?
We’re very proud, it means a huge amount to everyone from me to the guys in the warehouse and shows our customers reckon we do a good job. The fact we’ve beaten Unilever, P&G and Coke is testament to the quality of the people who work for us. The Landmark Awards tick a lot of different boxes and reflect the strength of our team.
WM – How does the agency relationship work with the brands you handle, like ACE? Do Robinson Young manage the marketing and advertising, or do the brands do it themselves?
We have different arrangements with different brands – for some we just take orders, while others have their head office overseas and no representation here so we do everything for the brand in the UK. ACE is now the fastest growing product in laundry additives, outpacing RB’s Vanish.
WM – If you represent a given brand from one manufacturer in one category, are you free to take on more brands in the same category from other manufacturers?
We wouldn’t handle directly competing products, however in some categories, like stationery, we represent several products that don’t compete with each other.
WM – Talking in February, when does the Spring Cleaning season start in your view? How big is it in the wholesale/independent sector?
Spring Cleaning starts from March onwards. It isn’t as big as it was, in our view; people are more hygiene conscious now than 20 years ago, but it’s still a good opportunity for promotions. House cleaning is a huge sector overall and it’s crucial that independent retailers have a good showing. In these outlets a lot of purchases of these products are impulse or emergency purchase. If people are going to do top up shopping in these outlets, you need a good spread.
WM – What should wholesalers do to help independents sell more Household cleaning products?
They need to stock the right range of SKU’s, in the right categories in the right pack sizes, and make sure the pricing is right to compete with supermarkets. PMPs give consumers confidence they’re buying products that are good value.
WM – What are Robinson Young’s plans for the rest of 2017?
We are talking to some new brands and hope to announce some new launches in Health & Beauty. We’re looking for new partners because with the success of brands like ACE we have a lot to offer. Many of the imported products we handle are being affected at the moment by currency issues and we’re having conversations about how to mitigate these so we set the right balance.