Sugro UK is a unique member-owned buying and marketing group of 80 independent wholesaler companies which are truly nationwide.

The group supplies over 16,000 independent retailers with their impulse requirements.

Facilitated and achieved by over 300 combined field and telesales staff, all of whom form part of the team of each member wholesaler, Sugro UK reaches its large retail customer base with a combined fleet of around 300 dedicated delivery drivers and vehicles.

Yulia Petitt, Sugro Head of Trading and Marketing, told Wholesale Manager about the group’s new ordering app and about the success of its recent virtual conference.

Tell us a bit about Sugro. What does the group do? How many wholesalers are members of the group? What are the benefits to wholesalers of joining Sugro?

Established over 36 years ago, Sugro UK is a member owned buying group which has always specialised in impulse but recently expanded into grocery too. The group is currently made up of 80 independent wholesalers nationwide including Northern Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Isles, with a combined turnover of £1.4bn. Sugro UK offers its members a wealth of benefits including; increased buying power, sales, traditional marketing and digital marketing, incentives, trade shows, design and IT services. Engaged with over 150 suppliers, we enable our members to access 17 promotional offers per year across different product categories, EDLP offers, marketing, online ordering and advertising digital app. The Sugro UK group also supports its members with centralised order capture, central statement finance facility and sales development.

At Sugro Central Office, we are working closely with and support our 80 members both collectively and individually in achieving continuous growth. We have one-to-one relationships with our wholesalers as not all our members are the same shape and size so we work with members individually to create a business plan for them with us, which may include things like new suppliers and products, as well as a strong central promotional offer.

We are not the biggest buying group but our aim is to be the best at the services that we offer to our wholesalers. We hope to hit the ‘sweet spot’ by serving wholesalers between £5m and £75m turnover with a strong overall offer but also highly personalised support.

Our wholesalers have a diverse customer base that ranges from retail shops to fast food and take away outlets, hospitality venues, garden centres, educational settings, hospitals as well as supplying direct to the general public. Sugro UK is recognised by independent retailers as the provider of top-class promotional support services for delivered wholesale and cash & carry formats embracing impulse, convenience and discounter offers.

Despite all challenges in 2020, Sugro’s group performance has been remarkably strong with cumulative year to date growth as of the end of September of +9% year on year. The Covid-19 challenge has certainly brought Sugro’s wholesalers, head office and suppliers together with regular engagement and communication being key. Sugro group has often described itself as a family and it is the togetherness as well as the commercialism and the adaptability that makes Sugro group such a unique and successful organisation even in these unpredictable times.

How many retailers does Sugro supply? What about retailers – what do they get out of joining the Retail Club?

Sugro wholesalers supply to over 16,000 independent retail stores across the country. Sugro also has its dedicated Sugro Retail Club scheme that allows the independent retailer to effectively compete in a highly challenging marketplace with deep cut consumer promotional pricing on the biggest and best brands in the industry! We already have over 2,600 retailers enjoying real benefits by participating with more retailers joining the scheme on a regular basis. Sugro provides retailers with 17 promotions per year, free of charge point of sale kits and continuous ongoing support. Sugro Retail Club Retailers are required to display point of sale material in store, focus on core range and support new product launches throughout the year. Retailers get extra benefits for providing evidence of compliance and activation over and above standard Retail Club requirements.

How many staff does Sugro have and what are their roles?

Sugro Group employs 22 staff in total across 7 departments: trading, marketing, design, IT, finance, central distribution and business development.

Senior leadership team consists of Neil Turton, Sugro Managing Director, Peter Smith, Sugro Finance Controller and Yulia Petitt, Sugro Head of Trading and Marketing.

The trading department works collaboratively with the supply partners on joint business plans, promotions, terms, trade shows and incentives. The department also works closely with the members and provides support on any queries regarding promotions, pricing and terms.

The marketing department looks after digital trade marketing and communication, online ordering, the digital app and company social media as well as working collaboratively with the suppliers on marketing, trade activation and campaigns.

The Sugro Central Distribution department looks after national food distribution contracts via Sugro members with contracts varying from educational establishments and leisure industry to manufacturing business and government institutions. The team also looks after product and price files, ensuring that all data is up to date.

The finance team looks after the accounting functions of each company within Sugro Group as well as managing central invoicing on behalf of the members.

The design team is responsible for all Sugro’s design requirements as well as personalised marketing for the members.

The IT team maintains the Sugro network, IT infrastructure and software development as well as providing members with support on online ordering, websites and digital app.

The business development department works collaboratively with both members and suppliers on key initiatives within the group. The team is responsible for growing existing members and gaining new members for the group.

How do you build mutually profitable, long term relationships with suppliers?

We believe that relationship building is key to success in the long term. We work with our supply partners collaboratively through listening, sharing, engaging, planning, activating, and measuring the results. We build relationships on trust, support and loyalty.

As a group, we have been enjoying 13 years of consecutive growth and Sugro is continuing to grow even in these unknown times. Some of the account managers have been on the journey with the group for quite a while as they have been looking after members’ accounts and head office for over 5 years and, in some cases even longer which helped to build strong productive relationships between members, head office and suppliers.

This year, communication has certainly been key. To ensure our members have been getting the support they require we have been working closely with the suppliers on different support options that vary on a member to member basis. This included credit terms relaxation, clearance support, bonus off invoice promotions where possible, prompt payments and increased stock availability across key lines. From our side we supported suppliers with regular communication via video calls as well as face to face communication, where possible. With the help of the business development team, we navigated suppliers around potential opportunities towards mutual growth benefits. Member recruitment has also been strong this year with 13 members joining the group in 2020. We are now at the stage where we are planning joint business plans for 2021 and with many opportunities across our members and supply partners, we believe that Sugro will have another successful year of growth.

Sugro launched an ordering app earlier this year. What has the uptake been like? How many members are using the app?

Sugro’s trading strategy is to concentrate on developing business for our members, with the Sugro app and e-commerce being the centre piece of that. We work to create Sugro as a ‘thriving marketplace’ where business gets done.

The growth of e-commerce in wholesale has drastically accelerated this year with digital being the fastest-growing channel in wholesale. We at Sugro are committed to ensuring our members have access to all necessary tools and technology that would allow them to compete. Sugro has invested in its free B2B digital app which went live earlier this year. The app allows members to create their own tailor-made platform and customise it with wholesaler branding and provides an online ordering platform for retailers.

B2B App has proven to be very successful for the group and helped members to do business with their customers more efficiently. It allows retailers to browse product catalogues and add products to basket on the go, scan the products using barcode and pay online via the in-app payment method with new features such as delivery and click and collect coming shortly. The platform gives them an opportunity to provide the best customer service and experience via the app ordering facility and personalised marketing capabilities, such as product advertising and push notifications that are already available on the app platform with more bespoke features going live in January 2021.

There also has been a huge shift to online shopping this year and many wholesalers diversified and are now supplying direct to the general public, hence why Sugro now offers its members a B2C digital platform which is easy to use and offers a quick 24 hour turnaround.

Amid the current situation that wholesalers are dealing with, it is imperative that Sugro members remain at the forefront of the move towards digital ordering. Sugro head office team is committed to ensuring that its members have access to all necessary tools and technology that will allow them to continue servicing their customers in these constantly changing times.

E-commerce is a long term strategy for Sugro Group and we are very pleased to see such a good uptake within the group with 10 wholesalers already taking the advantage of the digital app this year and 10 more members set to go live in 2021.

What were the challenges of holding a virtual conference? Did the event suffer from people not being there in person and meeting each other?

The word ‘unprecedented’ has been overused this year but it really is apt. Sugro UK tried to make every effort to move back towards normality by hosting its first physical trade show and networking event, but the government measures meant that Sugro had to change this to a virtual event at two weeks’ notice! Despite the challenges of that, Sugro UK head office staff with the help of its members and supply partners have worked really hard to put together a high quality virtual event which was described by many attendees as the “best in class, professionally delivered industry event” which has received incredible positive feedback from both members and suppliers in the industry.

By partnering with one of the leading UK virtual conference platform providers, Sugro group was able to deliver its first ever virtual conference on the online platform which gave them the opportunity to bring members and suppliers together virtually by showcasing Sugro members’ and suppliers’ presentations and video interviews and hosting engaging panel discussions on the day. The conference which was virtually attended by over 250 delegates followed with a series of 1-to-1 virtual video networking meetings between members and suppliers with over 700 appointments taking place over a 3-day period.

We have received some great feedback from our members and supply partners. It is fantastic to see such a high level of attendance and participation between Sugro wholesalers and our supply partners. As with everyone else in the world, we at Sugro had to adapt and do things differently this year and I am very pleased that we are doing it successfully. Covid-19 has taught us that providing advanced solutions to help connect and network both members and suppliers is crucial to success in a rapidly transforming strategic environment.

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