New VOW Managing Director Ian Sinclair has told opi.net that he expects the experience he has gained in the UK grocery sector to benefit the wholesaler’s OP dealer customers.
And by grocery, we are not talking about fruit and veg – Sinclair was responsible for setting up Tesco’s PC business and built it into a category that included ink, paper and other consumables and accessories.
Sinclair first came across ISA Retail while searching for a partner to help develop the category at Tesco. A brief spell as a consultant followed in 2003 before he was asked to step into the Managing Director’s role at the Bradford-based firm in early 2004.
After providing retail solutions – including category management, merchandising and delivery – to some of the UK’s largest retailers, ISA was looking for a scaled-down version of its model that would work in the convenience store sector. This led to ISA securing a five-year contract to manage the offer in the Crown Post Offices and through that connection, access to sell to the 14,000-plus Sub Postmasters.
Now the Vasanta Group has decided to merge the £90 million-a-year ISA Retail business into its VOW wholesaling operations, creating an entity with annual sales of around £440 million.
"There was always a desire to get Retail involved in VOW," says Sinclair.
"We realised that there were a lot more synergies across the way Retail treats its customers and the way that Kingfield and ISA treat their customers.
"It’s very service driven – it’s all about understanding how we can do the best job for our customers’ customers, which is very similar to what we’ve done in servicing the grocery sector and the Post Office."
Sinclair thinks that there will be positives for dealers whether they have retail outlets or not.
"For the glass-fronted guys, there is an enormous amount of retail expertise that we can draw on," he states.
"There are very similar challenges in how we face dealers and their customers: what do we need to be selling, what are the right markets for us, how do we maintain our growth rates-
"That’s where we are now. Going forward, it’s all about servicing our customers and getting best practices shared amongst these teams," says Sinclair.
Sinclair will split his time between VOW’s Sheffield office and ISA Retail’s Bradford HQ whilst also finding time to visit the Arrow distribution centre near Leicester.
"But to be honest, I don’t think I’ll be at any of those three locations that much to begin with!"
"I’m very hands on and I’ll be visiting a lot of our customers to get a better idea of their businesses and what their needs are," he explains.
From initial contact with customers, one of Sinclair’s first impressions of the OP industry is that it is very similar to the marketplace he worked in before.
"Both sectors have very progressive customers who are very demanding. Good teams of people to work with them and knowing the culture of the customer are paramount," he notes.
One thing that he hasn’t come across so far is any ill-feeling to the controversial issue of Kingfield Heath being associated with ISA’s Supplies Team business following the 2007 merger.
"It’s not something I’ve been hearing," he confirms. "I’m going to be speaking to a lot of customers and if that is an issue, then I’ll listen – but from those I’ve spoken to so far, it hasn’t come up."
"Interestingly," he adds. "ISA had all three businesses [Retail, Wholesale and Supplies Team] running alongside each other in the past and it was not an issue then and it shouldn’t be an issue going forward."
And whilst there was some scope for cost savings due to the merger, ISA Retail always maintained separate sales teams and specialist support services for retail customers who dealt solely with retail data.
Sinclair is also quick to point out that the Kingfield Heath heritage remains.
"Alan Barclay is group Chairman and a lot of the original people are still here."
And, despite some recent staff changes, Sinclair has an experienced management team working with him.
"Sales Director Adrian Butler has worked here for 14 years, National Accounts Director Steve Blowers 18 years, Marketing Director Helen Beckett 9 years and Ashley Coleman has been in Ireland for 14 years to name but a few.
"I see a very positive team at VOW having spent a few weeks with the key people.
"What I want is to work with our customers to take their businesses to the next level."