Welcome to the Wholesale Manager Business Technology feature, with details of the latest innovations to improve your performance in this crucial part of the modern wholesale business. As we come to the end of another busy year, it’s time to stop and appreciate the enterprise resource planning and warehouse management solutions that we have and which we largely take for granted.

chazPeople working in wholesale these days are reliant on technology to such a degree that it’s impossible to imagine how their predecessors operated. Thirty years ago the typical cash and carry or delivered wholesaler had the minimum of technology, barely even a hand held scanner to check the labels on pallets and cases. And there was no voice technology.

Incoming stock was brought into the warehouse and counted off against delivery notes, and put onto the fixture. Customers walked around cash and carries picking up products like they still do, but delivered wholesalers’ deliveries were picked against paper lists, and errors and wrong picks abounded, as did losses along the way.

Buyers working in cash and carries and delivered wholesalers were as shrewd then as they are now, but they relied heavily on paper records and sales reps coming in and counting stock in the bay, then coming into the office and telling them how much had been sold since their last visit, and based on that, how much they needed to order.

There was trust and rapport between buyers and suppliers’ reps to the point where they became good friends. But the system was open to abuse and sometimes less scrupulous sales reps would hoodwink the buyer into taking on far more stock than they should, especially before a price increase or a fast selling product was advertised on TV.

Yes it was sharp practice, but it meant the sales reps made their targets and the wholesalers got a great deal on their orders, and with particular fast moving products that commanded a good margin, it made sound business sense to take on as much stock as they could handle – and then some.

Legend has it that one particular cash and carry in South London sold extraordinary amounts of a certain brand of tinned condensed milk, which was extremely popular with its independent retail customers and their Afro-Caribbean shoppers. The owner took it into his head to order heavily in advance of a promotion. The stock arrived and the product moved out rapidly, at which point the owner got greedy and decided to double his order while the promotion lasted. He requested an express delivery.

The extra stock arrived promptly, and with the stock room still full, the retailer had no alternative but to store the products upstairs. Tinned milk is heavy; the upper floor wasn’t reinforced for load bearing; and inevitably the ceiling collapsed.

Would business technology stop this happening now? Let’s hope so. Have a successful December, and here’s to 2016.

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