The Olympics: running rings round East London’s wholesale trade?

With just days to go until the London Olympics, Games organisers and the authorities have come under fire from wholesalers in the capital for ignoring the concerns of local business.

One London wholesaler, who asked not to be named, said: “We’ve been visited by the authorities but they just brushed our concerns aside. We, and our customers, are worried about out-of-stocks, disruption to deliveries, especially on fresh and chilled.  Organisers seem to think that the Olympics are the only game in town. Nobody seems to have thought about the fact that some of us have to work to keep things going.”

Wanis, a family-owned C amp;C and wholesale distributor based in Leyton, just one-and-a-half miles from the Olympic Park, has already been affected: set up in 1954, it traded happily from a site in Stratford until a compulsory purchase order six years ago forced it to relocate. Now the business is preparing for more disruption.

“We’ve had lots of information from the authorities,” business development director Kapil Wadhwani told Wholesale News. “But most of it is non-specific and the plans have changed a number of times along the way. We can plan to an extent, but really once the Games are live, we’ll have to adapt to situations on the hoof.”

Wanis has already put in place measures to help retail customers, including in-store notices, and writing to both suppliers and customers about the changes to operating patterns.

“We are shifting both our opening times for goods inwards/suppliers and also customer opening times,” Wadhwani said. “We are opening the C amp;C at 3am and closing at 4pm to enable our customers and suppliers to visit us outside of the operational times of the Olympic Road Network [6am – midnight].

“Our office hours are also being shifted to start at 7am and finish at 4pm, with the office team having the option to come in earlier if they so wish. All our domestic suppliers are also aware that they will be asked to assist by delivering to us between 6am and midday.

“But the big problem is that the local community has been pushed aside for the ‘greater good’ of the Games. Even where small adjustments could have been made to help us, these were rarely even considered, let alone granted.”

Further down the road, Docklands-based London Wholesale has been hit by a triple whammy – it is midway between the Stratford site and two other major Olympic venues, the Excel Centre and the 02. Company secretary Omar Saeed confirmed: “We were visited by someone from the Olympic Road Network who gave us some standard literature but was unable to answer some of the specific queries we had.”

He added that the business had been forced to improvise: “We have passed onto our customers a map of alternative routes to our warehouse, but apart from guiding our customers to alternative routes, we have only been able to toe the line of the ORN. All in all, we will probably be affected negatively because of traffic measures; however, we remain hopeful that the Olympics will boost sales sufficiently for our retailers to benefit and in turn, for us also.”

Another wholesaler who asked to remain anonymous added: “I have a lot of overseas suppliers who are looking to me to represent them at this time. I am worried that I may not be able to do so because of disruptions that are beyond my control. The advice I’ve been given has been generic and not very useful.”

One wholesale boss, Michael Spinks of Hackney-based Essex Foodservice Group, described the Games as “the neighbour from hell” and was so concerned – he believes the only access roads to his depot will be closed for 18 hours a day during the Games – that he is considering taking retrospective action against the organisers for any damage to his business. He already has the support of his local MP and the matter has been raised in Parliament.

London 2012 said in a statement: “A lot of work has gone into getting businesses in the area to understand the impacts of the Games taking place and how they may have to adapt”.

TFL advised wholesalers to visit the “Advice for Business” section of its special Olympics website for the latest news and advice:


Will London 2012 benefit the trade? A wholesaler’s view

Prime Minister David Cameron was widely quoted last week as saying that the Olympics would be a “£13bn gold” boost for Britain’s economy. However, the local wholesale trade is less than convinced, with many uncertain that any extra business they might do will outweigh the disruption caused to their businesses.

“The Olympics is definitely a double-edged sword,” Wanis’ Kapil Wadhwani  told WN. “We may have more trade due to the significant increase in visitors to London.  We expect these visitors to be purchasing from restaurants, takeaways and the Independent grocery channels, with a focus on Impulse purchases like drinks and snacks.

“What we can’t tell yet is how much of this trade we will capture, since this is a London-wide benefit, not specific to the Olympic Park area, and visitors will be staying all over London and the surrounding areas.  Where cashflow permits, wholesalers and retailers need to stock up on impulse items with a decent shelf life – being out of stock will lead to lost sales, and in in the event that the anticipated excess demand doesn’t materialise, the worst they’ll suffer is being overstocked for a period of time.”

He also believes that there will be little competitive advantage for anyone. “Realistically the disruption will most likely be bad for all local businesses.  We expect significantly more congestion and hassle for our customers unless they change their operational timings – this why we’ve changed ours! If customers feel it’s too difficult to come to us then we will suffer a downturn in trade. All we can do is communicate to our customers, suppliers and staff and ask them to make adjustments – in fact the whole of London will need to make adjustments.”

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