Last December, Bestway hit the headlines with the news the wholesaler had bought Costcutter Supermarkets Group from Bibby Line Group.

Now Bestway has announced a new structure for its field-based operations team that work with the group’s symbol retailers, in the next phase of its exciting plans to bring together the convenience, franchise, company owned and new business functions under one Bestway Retail team.

The new team will see current Best-one and Costcutter field-based colleagues combined to provide structured support to the groups 2,544 convenience stores.

Mike Hollis, Retail Director, Bestway Wholesale, tells Wholesale Manager how the wholesale industry has changed in recent years and about his plans to grow the business in 2021.

Bestway has announced a new field support structure for its symbol retailers.How specifically will the new team provide support to the group’s convenience stores?

The newly structured team is an exciting development for our business and will see current Best-one and Costcutter field-based colleagues come together to provide structured support to our 2,544 convenience stores. Dedicated Business Development Managers will provide expert retail support and focus on developing joint business plans with our symbol retailers on a pro-active and personalised level in order to help them achieve business growth whilst optimising their sales and margin.

How have the Costcutter symbol groups been performing since Bestway acquired them last year? Is membership still growing?

At Bestway Wholesale we have continued to attract new entrepreneurial retailers to our group through offering what we believe is the most dynamic and comprehensive offer in symbol retail. Retailers are attracted by the broad offer the group can provide from fresh focused, full shop missions to leading value, impulse and alcohol led offers. But, it’s not just about the offer – it’s also about the service and expertise we bring to the relationships including staying ahead of trends with an ability to adapt fast to changing consumer behaviours and embrace online and technological advancement. We underpin everything we do with expert retail support and help to develop joint business plans to help the retailers grow their business and maximise sales and margin.

How have the rest of Bestway’s symbol groups been performing, in terms of turnover and store numbers?

We are in a really exciting place as the total business comes together to create centres of excellence. Our symbol stores are going from strength to strength as we define and strengthen our propositions. There is a lot of positive energy amongst our different symbol brands as we build on the successes already achieved. Bestway symbol brands have seen an increase in both sales turnover and growth across store numbers.

How has the wholesale industry changed in recent years?

The last two or three years for wholesalers has clearly been a mixed bag! It’s been a roller coaster of change as we all work closely with our customers and their consumers and, of course, our suppliers to meet changing needs through Covid. It’s been especially difficult for wholesalers who are focused into Foodservice and Covid amplified the challenges already facing the sector with legislation (living wage), Brexit and associated cost implications.

With this level of disruption across the industry – every wholesaler has needed to look hard at its business. The accelerating adoption of digital strategies, online shopping, and following where the data is leading to reward and understand the customer better and help retailers in a myriad of ways whether that is ensuring they get fair share of stock and supplies, or providing value add through rewarding loyalty or giving access to home shopping apps and new service provision.

How is Bestway performing as a business overall? Is turnover growing?

Despite market conditions, the wholesale sector remains challenging and especially within the catering division, we have returned strong financial results with increased revenues and profitability.

We now plan to further build on our current momentum and drive through the summer trading period, (with further good weather indicated to be on the horizon in August) with our road-to-recovery plan for both our Catering and impulse-lead businesses.

Bestway is emerging stronger from the pandemic and with the addition of Costcutter we now have a solution for every type of independent retailer. We have demonstrated what a powerful and motivated team we are over the past 12 months in our response to the pandemic, and as the businesses come together we have a good grasp on the brilliant opportunity we have to grow market share.

This year has been a testing time for us all but, by remaining resilient and working together as one Bestway family, we have been able to move forward together stronger. We have consistently good sales and look forward to building on these as we plan for Christmas.

Which of the product categories you supply are in growth and which are more challenging?

Beers and spirits remain in strong growth, along with soft drinks and confectionery and impulse. However, as the industry will be aware there are some challenges across the industry with availability through a small number of suppliers. We are in close contact with our suppliers (often talking every day to them) in order to mitigate these shortfalls.

How digital is Bestway as a business and do you offer any IT support for your members e.g. ordering apps, online support, delivery tracking?

At Bestway we are always investing in, and improving the technology we use, right across the breadth of the business. We are the market leader in digital developments including being the first in the industry to introduce our bespoke apps for Bestway Wholesale, BB Foodservice and Best-Pets and we continue to invest and drive digital developments. Our retailers have full access to our home shopping app which is being unrolled across the UK with the early results showing 500% average up-kick in basket spend.

Our strategy for all our investments in technology is quite simple; to improve efficiencies, the customer journey and the bottom line. Now that Costcutter is part of the Bestway family, this same approach will be taken in support of those independent retailers.

Did your depots remain open during the Covid-19 crisis? Was it difficult to enforce social distancing in-depot? How was your business and the wholesale industry in general affected by the Covid-19 pandemic?

We were very fortunate as we were able to keep all our depots open during the pandemic, in order to keep the nation fed. Due to the vast size of our depots, we were able to implement our social distancing policy in a way that was effective, whilst moving our people around to provide additional support in depots where demand was greatest.

We employ our drivers directly who are all motivated and passionate about ensuring our deliveries are maintained. We made adjustments to routing and how cash was collected to ensure that our team was safe at all times, whilst being effective in their work.

Overall our business continued to serve the nation effectively, and although we were impacted by the closures across catering and on-trade, this trade was offset by the increase in demand for takeaways.

Has Amazon become an even greater threat over the last year, given the rise in online ordering due to the pandemic?

Not really, no more than before. We know our customers are looking for market leading deals and service, and with Bestway we can offer them more than price and product.

What impact do you think Brexit will have on the industry?

As more restrictions are introduced on the movement of certain foodstuffs from GB to NI from 1st October, we are working closely with our supplier partners and local DTS suppliers to ensure all Costcutter supplied retailers in Northern Ireland continue to have access to the right range of products to meet their needs of their shoppers.

The new regulations mean many businesses are having to adapt their processes and supply chains which can take time. We are focused on supporting our retailers and keeping them fully informed.

What are your plans to grow the business in 2021?

Our team has been working incredibly hard behind the scenes to harness the scale, talent and expertise across our newly combined convenience business.

Bringing together our teams is an important step in delivering our ambitious growth plans for both Bestway and our retailers. This also paves the way for us to deliver new initiatives to our retailers in the future and also enables us to extend to all our symbol retailers, some of the existing high calibre support we provide, such as access to our specialist store development team.

Providing targeted support that adds real value for retailers is a key element in the breadth of our offer and means that we are a genuine force in the market which can now meet the needs of any retailer.


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