Tom Fender, newly appointed Development Director of route-to-market (RTM) data specialist TWC, has worked in the wholesale/RTM and convenience sector for 20 years. He was co-owner of the research firm HIM! Research and Consulting from 1997-2012, before investing in Bolt, which was acquired earlier this year, He now joins TWC’s Tanya Pepin and the team at a pivotal point for TWC and the sector as a whole.
We start our chat looking at what route-to-market data specialists do and the data they cover. The UK route-to-market is worth about £26bn annually, Tom explains, playing a vital role in getting suppliers’ products to 46,000 convenience stores and 360,000 food-to-go outlets:
“Historically suppliers find it extremely difficult to identify which retailers and caterers are purchasing their products and, ultimately, whether they are reaching the right end consumer. Wholesalers understand this and sell their shipment data to suppliers so there’s greater clarity on this complex supply chain.”
TWC helps wholesalers package their shipments data in order to capitalise on it, says Tom Fender:
“We provide sales analytics and technology for wholesalers, retailers and suppliers to drive customer loyalty and growth” he says. “Within this, we have a platform called Alchemy Learn, that Country Range Group and Unitas Wholesale use to report their sales and shipments out. All our products and solutions are centred on maximising the use of wholesalers’ sales data to identify gaps, threats and opportunities to increase sales for wholesalers and suppliers and drive the right product to the right customer.”
Tom’s role is at the centre of all this, supporting the development of the TWC brand and the company with new clients, products and sectors:
“Our offices are in central Milton Keynes but we have clients and our work is spread all over the UK. Also, as a tech company keen to utilise the benefits of modern connectivity, most of our team work remotely to facilitate their quality of life, securing the best talent and reducing costs on office space.”
The initials ‘TWC’ stand for The Wholesale Company, the business’s original name, says Tom, but there’s more to the business now:
”We recently rebranded to TWC as our business is stretching into new markets while retaining our core heritage in wholesale. We really do “make data sing,” as our strapline says. Whether it’s a wholesaler like Country Range Group or a group like Unitas that wants to build its commercial relationships with suppliers via accurate reporting that identifies growth opportunities; or Boost Drinks wanting to demonstrate its scale in wholesale and convenience and develop a data led route to market strategy, we are their partner of choice.
“Our specialism is wholesale and convenience. We understand how the market works and appreciate the challenges of the channel. We take the hard work out of data mining and data analysis and distill sales trends into intuitive, user friendly reports that are relevant to the audience, saving time and supporting upsell.”
TWC’s current products fall into three areas, Data/insight, Digital services and Apps. Tom Fender talks us through the various offerings:
“Our core data/insight product is Alchemy Learn. Our dashboard suite is designed to take the complexity out of reporting and analysing sales performance. Simple to use and enabled for mobiles and PCs, it allows users to find the “killer facts” fast. We also provide consultancy services, enabling companies in this route to market to build an insight strategy and actively mine sales data to drive performance.
“In the digital services area, Unitas uses our SnapShare product under the Picture Portal name, when they ask retailers to take photos of products, Point of Sale and new product development in their store to prove execution has taken place. This is important for suppliers and wholesalers who want to prove a ROI on NPD activity and promotional spend. It is leading a new era in compliance.
“On the apps front we enable businesses to perform to a higher level – for example, we integrate sales data with customer facing or field sales data to drive changes in customer purchasing behaviour, via the use of e-vouchers to incentivise retailers and help close gaps in product listing. Our major achievement in apps is designing and building Unitas’ ‘Plan for Profit’ app.”
These solutions are aimed at suppliers, wholesalers, retailers and supply chain partners, says Tom, but other businesses benefit from them too: “Field-sales companies for example collect huge amounts of information, which can be integrated with other commercial information to provide more insight for companies.”
If people get it right about harnessing their sales data, says Tom, the potential is vast: “Our knowledge of the markets we serve is well known and hugely valued. This knowledge allows us to build data warehouses and dashboards which deliver the insights businesses need to grow sales. Our data goes beyond the generic – it is hugely granular, by category, sku and outlet.”
How people use this data varies according to the client, says Tom Fender. “Unitas has a very mature data service with lots of suppliers accessing their system as well as buyers and members, so there we are talking about hundreds of users, whereas a client like Boost is a more strategic scenario, where the data is weaved into management meetings and TWC’s role is to build user-friendly decks to support strategic decision making. As our business and penetration grows, so do our users.”
TWC produces great looking, relevant reporting, says Tom, “but the thing that lots of our clients tell us they really value is our knowledge of the channel and the senior operators within it. This brings a realistic understanding of what can be achieved – if we identify growth opportunities, our insights are based on knowledge of the different wholesale operators and their trading style so our recommendation is genuinely achievable. We are a trusted partner – sales data is of the utmost value strategically to any business and the team at TWC is respected for its integrity – we protect our client’s data and the intellectual property rights within it.”
TWC delivers growth to clients that come to them with that requirement. The Company recently helped a client move from year on year decline to growth in six months and supported another one to turn its weakest performing region into the strongest. “We also enabled a client to receive, collate and report sales data from over fifty of the most disparate wholesalers who did not have common data platforms or any central reporting. We managed this in three months, supporting the organisation to achieve its commitment to those wholesalers to make payments against terms for receipt of data.”
Having worked in wholesale/RTM and convenience for 20 years, Tom Fender remains enthusiastic about the sector:
“It helps that everybody needs to eat and drink, but RTM underpins the retail and foodservice sectors. I can’t think of many industries who have adapted to consumer changes over the years better than retail and foodservice… which means that wholesalers change too, or they go out of business. Retail and foodservice now overlap – ‘Foodvenience’ is a term often quoted these days. Finally, the people who work in these industries tend to be human, inquisitive, supportive and open to new ways of thinking and working, such as using data and allowing it to drive retail strategies.”
Tom is a fervent supporter of embracing technology but thinks more could be done: “The UK population is one of the most tech savvy in the world, far greater than even the USA for example. We need to ensure businesses embrace technology and ‘digital’ – I still think we can be nervous of tech at times.”
Tom is equally positive about big buying groups like Unitas and Confex being a good thing for members:
“The recent Unitas conference was a useful reminder of the benefits that buying groups bring to individual wholesalers – a huge amount of buying power, not just in product, but services like electricity suppliers, banking and professional services and pooled expertise in the form of best practice sharing. 98% of Unitas sales are in fmcg brands, so this is good news for branded suppliers. In the coming months, I’d far rather be working in collaboration as part of a big group than trying to go it alone.”
There are vast numbers of wholesalers currently trading in the UK, but Tom believes the figures are sustainable: “I would say wholesaling, like most industries, is a meritocracy, in that operators reap the successes they sow, but one of the major challenges is not moving with the times.”
Speaking of challenges to come, Tom is optimistic about Brexit:
“We have the FWD on hand to advise the whole sector and their advice is first class. All wholesalers should refer to the free help and advice the FWD is providing. If we leave the EU, most commentators believe the country will suffer some form of economic slowdown. If this happens, then businesses will need to be able to identify every single sales opportunity… and maximise it. TWC combines data, insight, expertise and digital and we believe we are well placed to help a wide range of businesses.”
Whatever happens in the next few months, Tom Fender concludes, TWC has the technology to help wholesalers succeed:
“We’re bringing Picture Portal, our product image sharing tool being used by Unitas, to the wider market, closely followed by Alchemy CRM, a customer behaviour product using digital vouchers to incentivise customers to purchase products. Alchemy Elements will also be launched soon, a suite of modular components to help retailers, or suppliers to retailers, take data and present it in a way that is useful and informative, linked to digital solutions, to grow sales.”