Parfett’s success based on trust

It’s in the genes. Steve Parfett’s grandfather was an independent grocer living over the shop in Chiswick, west London, in the 1930s. Is it too fanciful to assume that Steve, managing director of Parfetts Cash Carry and a, if not the, leading militant campaigner for a better deal for independents, was subjected to a genetic boost from his granddad?

Alan Parfett, founder of the successful cash and carry Features > Business, traces his career from helping out as a boy in the Chiswick shop and his subsequent 60 years in the grocery trade in his book The Parfett Story, dedicated to his wife Pat and published this month.

For mature wholesalers it is a felicitous stroll down memory lane. For younger chaps in our industry it’s an inspirational “how to” manual for those who long to run their own business – or those who just want to become better at what they do.

The rationale for Parfetts’ success shines out from these pages. It’s simple but not common. Give retailers competitive pricing, full availability, a pleasant shopping experience in-depot and negotiate the best deals with both suppliers and customers – that’s the check list.

But there’s one extra dimension. It is trust – a quality which principals, directors and managers can inject into a company philosophy only if they themselves are secure and confident that what they do is right. Parfetts has it in spades.

Alan writes: “We have always trusted people and believed that if staff at all levels are encouraged to use their initiative … they may make mistakes. But if staff enjoy their work you will get the best from them.

“We like to think we are an ethical and caring company that is trusted by staff, customers and suppliers ” Alan observes. Who would argue?

In 1980, the launch year, turnover reached pound;3.5m from one cash and carry. In 2006 sales totalled pound;233m with pre-tax profits of pound;2.49m from six depots.

Is this achievement equalled by a family business in wholesaling? Alan reveals that he and his wife Pat gave up their financial interest in the company in 1988 so that it became owned by the four children, Steve, Robert, Barbara and Judy.

He can’t but help referring to ” the boys” in this tale of a business which has had its fair share of knocks – a serious depot fire, infestation by a beetle kindly left behind by previous owners, and a decision to bring high-profile American consultants into the company.

When the consultants – fee pound;300,000 – were three quarters of the way through, the concerns of managers caused it to be called to a shuddering halt. An experience not be be repeated, Alan sighs.

Alan and Steve Parfett are the only father and son who have been president (as it was then) and chairman of FWD. They are tireless industry enthusiasts.

Alan left school in 1945 and became a trainee in the food section at Harrods. He was good at making up orders in parcels with paper and string. Still is. Then came wholesalers Peter Keevil Sons where reps were often dealt with through a hatch.

Later came Alliance Wholesale Grocers (Wally Marjoram, Leslie Carter, Bernard Dore, Bob McDowell, Bob Muir and Joe Cunningham get mentions). Westons Cash Carry was involved – Alan was often tasked with buying products at wholesale prices for personal use by the legendary Garfield Weston, ABF chairman.

Alan recalls his senior jobs at the CWS, and Lonsdale Thompson with Joe Cunningham in the 1970s, a decade in which today’s wholesale sector began to take shape although many old names have gone.

We’ll pass over references to company presentations to suppliers at the Bunny Club, in Manchester, for the sake of sensitive readers.

Alan was 51 when he had the opportunity to buy the Reddish cash and carry from Snowden Bridge. He then started to talk at home to his wife Pat, Steve and Robert about forming their own family business. They had a total of about pound;25,000 available.

This is a valuable addition to the grocery industry’s archive. It’s full of tricks of the trade, homely banter and an indefinable understated pride in achievement.

Reading between the lines, it’s clear there will be another book to be written on where the company goes from here.

l The Parfett Story, by Alan Parfett, is available with the company’s compliments. For a copy contact Robert Parfett, email parfettsbook@parfetts.co.uk. If you enjoy it Alan invites you to make a modest donation to his favourite charity, Wilmslow Wells For Africa. Send your donation to Alan at AG Parfett Sons Ltd, Didsbury Road, Stockport, Cheshire SK4 2JP.

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