Putting in place pay-per-play: Darren Goldney of Today’s

In his first in-depth interview since becoming managing director of Today’s just three weeks ago, Darren Goldney (pictured) talks to Cash & Carry Management’s managing editor Kirsti Sharratt about his priorities for the group.

When you think of Today’s Group, do you think of a business with a turnover bigger than Booker’s (£5.7 billion versus £5.3 billion)?

Most suppliers probably don’t, concedes Darren Goldney, Today’s recently installed managing director: “That’s possibly because they don’t associate our central function with being able to deliver the breadth of initiatives across our entire membership base, while they do associate that with a national account like Booker.”

Bringing about “alignment of scale” ­ whereby Today’s “does things as one entity” is the priority for Goldney, who is drawing on his experience on both sides of the fence (he has worked for Coca-Cola, Whitworths and P&H) to “act as a real influencer and a pivot point between suppliers who would like a one-size-fits-all solution and members who are very individual”.

Cash & Carry Management spoke to Goldney about this key objective and his wider plans for the group:

What appealed to you about the role of managing director?

During my career it’s been fascinating to see the different needs of suppliers and wholesalers. Big suppliers want to talk about selling an incremental case because they have already got good distribution, whereas small suppliers are desperate to get the distribution in the first place. And it’s tough for wholesalers to make a profit on a thin margin and deliver against the needs of the supplier base. I feel well placed to put those two sets of requirements and challenges together.

I saw first-hand as a wholesaler (at P&H) that independents need far greater support from wholesalers, from help with credit card bills and energy bills to shelf-ready packaging and click & collect. Putting together a proposition that meets the needs of our members’ customers – whether retailers, foodservice operators or licensees – is a key challenge but we have to do that so that our members can not only match, but beat, the capabilities of Tesco/Booker, Bestway, etc.

Navigating that ground in an ‘honest broker’ fashion to make sure that our capabilities give retailers and caterers and foodservice operators a viable choice versus buying from the likes of Tesco is really exciting.

Wholesale members of Today’s (and Landmark) have two advantages: one is that they are independent and that resonates with independent retailers themselves and two is the nimbleness to be able to change.

At the moment, suppliers are very, very supportive because they’re faced with an interesting choice: they can look at groups of wholesalers who are independent and who service thousands of independent retailers and encourage those wholesalers to migrate to the highest levels of capability or they can go with increasingly corporate competition that is very much focused on the results next week or in the next quarter.

Today’s has always emphasised that it gives members the flexibility they need to make their own choices. With this in mind, how can you secure the supplier support you want?

Today’s has massive scale, which makes it different to Landmark, and it is the most diverse group – we have 147 members of different sizes, offering different ranges and with different customer bases: on-trade, foodservice and retail-led.

For our symbol group promotions and standard business-to-business promotions we can evidence to suppliers that those promotions have been passed on. But the industry is getting more complicated than that: wholesalers are looking at their customer base and beginning to broaden the repertoire of customers that they might attract – there are on-trade wholesalers who think about supplying some retail stores and there are retail-led wholesalers considering foodservice or the on-trade as an opportunity.

We get quite a lot of enquiries of that nature, whereby wholesalers are looking to come under the umbrella of a group that can support capabilities in areas that might not be their first domain. There lies the challenge!

Today’s will increasingly have wholesalers that have the capabilities to do slightly different things and we intend to tier our members by those capabilities. So, we will tell the supplier base which tier of members can, for example, offer a telesales resource and feet on the street.

Suppliers will want to invest in the higher level of capability, so that then provides a transparent incentive for the members who are embryonic in certain areas to develop those in-house capabilities in order access that support.

So, in many ways, what we will be developing is a pay-per-play mentality.

Do you tier your membership at the moment?

Yes, but it centres on capability to run the promotional programmes and is also based on scale. Scale is still important but what is paramount is the alignment of that scale.

For instance, not all our wholesalers get access to our symbol promotions because they haven’t invested in putting fascias on stores or the disciplines of running leaflets – so we are already tiering members on the retail side. What we are now looking to do is replicate that with our on-trade and foodservice members.

We can’t be the first-choice business partner with an offer that is at the lowest common denominator. We need to show at the very top of our membership that we can not only match, but be ahead of, the best operators – such as Matthew Clark in the on-trade – but in order to do that we have to be very honest about which members have which capabilities and make sure that we articulate that clearly with our supplier base.

I think all wholesalers, including national competitors, have been guilty in the past of articulating the best common denominator rather than the spectrum to the supplier community, and I think we are going to have to be brave to make sure we incentivise the lower common denominator to get up to the top by being transparent about it.

What initiatives are you introducing to help members to progress?

We are currently rolling out a data project where we’re sharing wholesalers’ sales-out data (volume and value) with our key suppliers. We have six wholesalers involved in this project, and we’re looking to use those as testimonials to our other wholesale members to show the value that sharing this data is being converted to with suppliers.

We are also launching an intranet site early next year. That’s as a result of my member visits – in the three weeks since I joined Today’s I have done 32 one-to-one meetings, 11 member visits and a lot of listening! The members said that, in addition to the annual conference, they want a way to learn from one another as there’s a hell of a lot going on in the group. The intranet will feature a synopsis of each member’s activities and best practices, with a focus on things that could be replicable across the group.

For example, HT & Co (Drinks), which I visited the other week, has developed a significant business-to-consumer operation, and while this isn’t the main part of its business, it is something that other wholesalers could potentially learn from.

The intranet site will also include educational messages from suppliers and the latest bulletins for members – we do a digital bulletin every Thursday but the intranet would be a more ‘live’ way to get messages to our members. We have also developed digital capability for members to understand their cashflow from the perspective of overrider earnings and promotional claims. The intranet will effectively become a one-stop shop for best practice and information to help our members manage their business.

How do you intend to develop your offering for your retail-led members?

Our Today’s Retail digital magazine is being refreshed, while our ‘Plan for Profit’ programme, which includes core range advice, planograms and a POR calculator on both an app and website, will be updated three times a year from 2018 instead of in a single phase. We know that retailers value ‘Plan for Profit’ but everything changing at one time was unmanageable for them, so we are giving them the updates in more bite-sized chunks.

Our retail club is growing – we now have more than 2,000 members – and a big theme for us is to think creatively about the types of promotions we want to run. For example, one of our focuses moving forward is larger pack formats. Small independent retailers are seeing that consumers will buy in to these great value packs, whether a 30-pack of Walkers Crisps or a 15-pack of Coke, so rather than restricting independents to the shackles of singles or ‘twofers’, we will help them expand consumption and drive a bit of footfall with some deals on large packs, the sort you might associate with the grocery sector or Costco.

Another focus for us is what we call central services. Yes, we have a leading-edge promotional programme, yes, we are looking to support retailers with EPoS, but one of the things we can improve is the package of services we offer, such as by negotiating central agreements on electricity and gas.

We were previously providing central services through a third party, but we brought it in-house three months ago, recruiting Steve Hodson specifically for that purpose in recognition that we need to dedicate more time and resource to it.

We now have about 30 different services – which are highlighted on our ‘Plan for Profit’ website – and our national development managers can take a checklist approach to show independent retailers that we are not just about promotions and price and range; we have solutions that can help take costs out of their business or enable them to offer their customers a new service (coffee machines and rotisseries are two examples).

We definitely need to accelerate our sales capabilities beyond promotions. For instance, we need to recognise that chilled is an area of growth and because we don’t have the central distribution capability of our own, we need to build on the collaborations that we’ve currently got with Nisa Chilled and Fresh to Store. We have members like Savage & Whitten in Ireland and United Wholesale (Scotland) in Glasgow who have made huge investments in their own chilled and frozen capability and we want other members to be able to learn from that – the intranet will help with this.

What are you doing specifically for your on-trade members?

At the moment, communication to the on-trade is through Headlines, an eight-weekly publication, that is distributed to 20,000 outlets and is focused on promotional offerings. However, we are looking at what more we can do to recognise the diversity that exists within the on-trade; for instance, are we able to offer through our 27 on-trade members a core range guide or promotional programme by wet-led pubs versus dry-led pubs versus night clubs?

We formed an on-trade strategy committee around six months ago, headed by Andrew Wild, joint managing director of Oldham-based Wilds Premier Drinks Distributor, and it is determining the key things the group should be doing then working with a member of central office to project-manage those initiatives.

And what initiatives do you have in the pipeline for your foodservice members?

We have 47 foodservice members, and our foodservice committee is led by Jim Cummiskey, CEO of Glasgow-based Failte Group, who alongside another dozen members is looking at various initiatives.

One of the big challenges for foodservice operators is the management of allergens and dietary requirements – chefs need a database that is 100% up to date and accurate so that they can make sure they are offering the correct information to consumers. Therefore, the foodservice committee is looking at producing a central platform for that type of information, rather than the 47 members struggling individually with this issue.

We will also have dedicated sessions on foodservice and the on-trade at our annual conference in Venice in 2018. In the past our conference has been dominated by retail, so we will address that.

What’s your view on the general market place?

So far this year our core business is up by 5%, so there is still growth in the market place. However, there is a huge amount of change happening, and not many people know how or when it will manifest itself, whether that’s to do with Booker/Tesco or Amazon drones…

I have come to the conclusion that rather than panicking about everyone else, we should focus on our own house. What we’ve got to do is get back to basics – ask ourselves what independent retailers and caterers and foodservice operators are faced with and how our proposition matches up against that.

We are already pretty efficient – for a group with member turnover of £5.7 billion we have 34 people at head office to try to do all the things that a slick national account wants to do.

Do you think there will be some consolidation of the buying groups in the UK to strengthen the overall offering for independent wholesalers?

I don’t know. Each group would highlight its point of difference. We’ve got scale, and we would always welcome more scale, but what we want more than anything is to make sure we point that scale in the right direction. That means we’ve got to raise our game so that we are not just sophisticated in retail but also in on-trade and foodservice. If we are able to do that then our scale will grow naturally.

Being the first-choice business partner is not about a wholesaler picking Today’s over Landmark, over Sugro, over Country Range; it has to start with consumers picking outlets that we’ve supported. That mentality is quite different to the way it was 15-20 years ago. We are bringing in retail experts and on-trade experts to help us move away from simply being a buying group – we’re as much a selling group now and it’s crucial that suppliers and wholesalers alike recognise that.

Tel: Today’s Group (01302) 249909

Published Date: December 6, 2017
Category: Wholesale Industry News