Andrew Selley: The new generation
FWD’s chairman pays homage to the wholesale industry after it gathered for the Federation’s latest conference and gives some pointers on how the sector can continue to move forward into a new generation
It’s always an honour to represent FWD at our annual conference and I’m very pleased that my third and final appearance as chairman was in front of the largest-ever business gathering of our members and supporters.
FWD’s three strategic pillars of representing wholesale, promoting wholesale and bringing wholesale together were woven through the event, from the legislative and economic updates in the morning session to the many passionate presentations by wholesalers and service providers who are investing in our sector, and the networking opportunities at our sponsors’ stands and into the evening.
It was three other themes that dominated the day: trends; technology; and talent for the 2020s. If any delegate is still under the illusion that our business models aren’t in need of change after the presentations on the likely outcomes of Brexit, the legislative preferences of the various possible governments and the fragility of consumer confidence, they can’t say they haven’t been warned.
Consumers are changing too, as are our customers. The Amazon consumer interface, with choice, product information, reviews and delivery options, is fast becoming the standard we have to offer our business customers.
Richard Fletcher, who spoke about Amazon’s ambitions, said the technology is all openly on view in the shop window – it’s there to be replicated, adapted and combined with our superior knowledge of food distribution. Bestway’s Salih Sheikh demonstrated how the sector is carving its own route towards this goal.
We also spoke at length about the channel’s reliance on talented people. Relationships with customers and suppliers can’t be replaced by technology, and there is a strong business case for recruiting, rewarding and incentivising the best new and existing talent we can find.
I was delighted to watch the films of young wholesalers from across the FWD membership who spoke with great insight and commitment about their lives and work. They’re part of a new generation of consumers but also have a knowledge of the practicalities of distribution, and this combination will be a great asset for the sector as they develop their careers.
We also have a duty to create a working environment that everyone feels safe and respected in. We must value each other and respect each other’s rights and individual differences. We celebrate these differences and rely on them to help create an energising culture; a culture that is inclusive of all individuals and benefits from diversity of thought, skills and experience.
Research carried out in preparation for the Dignity at Work Charter FWD launched at the conference showed that while 9 out of 10 respondents like the industry they work in and three quarters would recommend it as a great place to work, 35% of respondents had experienced some form of unwanted, inappropriate or harassing behaviour in the workplace.
That’s something we must collectively address and even as we celebrate the success of our sector and the close community within it, we must ensure wholesale distribution is a safe, respectful and rewarding career choice for the next generation of wholesalers and suppliers.