Opportunity to drive improved service

How many people have heard of John Quincy Adams? He was the sixth president of the United States (served 1825-1829) who sought to modernise the American economy and promoted education.

He was quoted as once saying: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

The question of leadership is an interesting one. It seems that leadership is required in the wholesale sector more than at any other time in recent years. The Association of Convenience Stores has recently introduced a quarterly “Voice of Local Shops” omnibus study which we are delighted to be working with them on.

Twenty per cent of independent retailers expect their sales to decline in the next 12 months. Understandable in the current environment, I guess.

But the real shame is that many retailers appear fearful of investing their own money to improve their businesses. In part, I understand this there might be no guaranteed return for them and it takes hard-earned cash out of the tills. And the banks are hardly throwing money around to help small businesses with loans.

But with the pace of change going on in the world these days, a commitment to ‘Kaizen’ (continuous improvement) becomes imperative. There are many improvements which independent businesses need to consider even those which cost no hard cash such as an enhanced commitment to customer service, reviewing staff rotas to make sure people are working when stores are at their busiest, community integration or charity work.

And there are lots of other initiatives which have equally as big an impact, but can be done for just a modest financial investment.

This is where wholesalers have such a critical role to play by helping as many independent businesses to review their current product and service offer, and evaluate new opportunities within their trading areas, because one-in-five retailers are seeing their sales increase in recent months compared to a year ago, and a far more positive one-in-two independent retailers think sales will increase this year.

That’s an under-current of cautious optimism if ever I saw one. Now is the time to exploit it, with wholesalers leading by example to review the existing product and service offering and encouraging foodservice and retailer customers to do the same.

If wholesalers ask their customers “what can we do to support you more in 2012″, this might encourage retailers and caterers to do the same to their customers.

2012 is the Chinese Year of The Dragon so a final thought: To attract good fortune, spend a new coin on an old friend, share an old pleasure with a new friend, and lift up the heart of a true friend by writing his name on the wings of a dragon.

We are an amazing industry let’s make sure we focus on the positives and exploit all opportunities which come our way. Together, we can be strong.

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