Meet the Member: Parfetts

Steve Jobs probably never used a cash and carry. Yet the Apple founder’s stamp can still be identified on a handful of depots around the country if you know the right place to look.

In Parfetts’ thriving warehouse on the outskirts of Sheffield, the Jobs effect greets most visitors as they first venture inside towards the throng of retailers busily stacking their trolleys with products.

Sitting opposite the aisles, the Customer Service Point is a bright and open area decked out with workbenches, high seats and vending machines for people to meet staff, discuss promotions and hole up for five minutes to take a break. It’s a welcoming space that sets the tone for a visit to Parfetts and creates such a friendly environment that one customer has even left their children to sit in the area while he shops.

It’s a scene that flies in the face of perceptions many people hold about cash and carries. And as Head of Customer Development and Marketing, Guy Swindell explains, the idea was inspired by looking at the best examples from outside the industry as well as within it.

“We designed the layout of the Customer Service Points with an Apple store in mind because it was a place where I always go and love, and always feel like that’s the ultimate in customer service,” Swindell explains proudly.

“The high workbenches, the light maple and the open, clean environment were all inspired by Apple. It’s taken from a completely different industry, but one where I’ve always experienced great customer service. There are no low desks, closed doors or general managers hidden away now – we opened it all out.”

It’s just one sign of the enhancements Parfetts has made to its stable of six cash and carries over the past decade, with its most recent – and seventh – addition in Middlesbrough set to follow in a similar vein too now the the purchase from Blakemore Wholesale has been completed.

The strong cash-and-carry operation is the foundation of Parfetts’ success over recent years, having grown from becoming employee owned in 2008 to posting a second consecutive year of record turnover this July.

With total sales up by 6.8% to £345 million and like-for-like sales, excluding tobacco, growing by 16% in the last financial year,  Parfetts is a wholesaler on the up.

While other advancements in the business have also helped, there’s no doubt that a high standard of cash and carry has played a key role in the growth.

“We’re very good at cash and carry,” Swindell tells Wholesale News. “Our customers and suppliers tell us that, and there’s an Advantage Mirror report that ranked us as number one again.

“People were talking five years ago about the death of cash and carry, but we’re not seeing that at the moment. It’s not just us either and many businesses are thriving on it. The key for us is to maintain and grow fantastic cash and carries, and we wouldn’t rule out buying another.

“I’d agree that our behaviours and attitudes towards our own cash and carries have changed. We’re not just treating them as a big shed, so we’re investing in them, with our customer hubs, reception areas and canteen, and we also do staff training.

“Ultimately, we can’t achieve supermarket standards, but we can try. We are trying to push the bar in terms of the levels of standards that we achieve. Our attitude has changed because if you came into our cash and carry 10 years ago, it would have been very different.”

Although it isn’t the biggest in the wholesaler’s estate, Parfetts’ Sheffield depot is significant as the company’s first cash and carry to launch a delivered service, Gold, in 2015 and also launching a 24-hour operation out of the site earlier this year.

Neither decision was taken lightly, with meticulous planning the order of the day to make sure the transition was as smooth as possible. For the launch of Gold, which has since been rolled out in Parfetts’ Somercotes depot too, that meant perfecting an online ordering service. One that Swindell says is viewed by the business as a “virtual cash and carry that raises the bar” by replicating the best of Parfetts’ physical shopping experience and combining it with the user-friendly approach customers expect when shopping online as consumers.

And that was taken to the next level when the Sheffield depot started its 24-hour function, which required a new team of 10 overnight workers to be hired to pick orders to sit in a cordoned-off area ready for delivery the next morning. As well as broadening the cash and carry’s reach beyond its traditional seven-mile radius for customers coming into depot, the change also meant the company was getting even more value from the facility.

“Greg [Suszczenia], our MD, uses a phrase all the time, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, which means if we weren’t expanding by purchasing new depots, we need to sweat our assets,” Swindell explains.

“That brought us delivery with Gold, then we turned into a 24-hour operation. That meant we gained some expertise in that field and developed our online offering, so we’re geared up to capitalise on things such as the P&H episode and the struggle Bargain Booze  had because we could offer a full fascia delivered option.

“What’s also happened is that some of the customers have come into our cash and carry because as soon as their supply chains were cut off, they needed that immediate supply and they’ve retained them because of our pricing, the margin they can get with us, and the fascia and retail club.”

Steady growth has seen Parfetts’ delivery turnover increase from zero to £400,000 a week in three years and while there are no plans to rush into offering exactly the same service at each of its other depots, the business is looking at further expansion.

But considerations will be made before committing to further delivered options, including geographic location, the logistics of setting the service up and transport links.

Swindell has his eyes set on further growth, but believes the best way to achieve that goal is through Parfetts’ Go Local fascia brand. To do that, the business is focusing on spanning out to new delivery regions by recruiting new retailers in places where they don’t currently have any.

“For me, it’s all about fascia,” Swindell adds. “We have 350 fascias and our target is to have 1,000 fascias as soon as possible. And that’s where we truly believe that we’ll solidify the successes that we’ve had.

“Go Local has been really successful so far and that’s key for us. As much as we talk about cash and carry, and delivered, fascia is our ultimate priority because that will create a really solid base of customers.

“I wouldn’t want to get carried away, but as we do grow and Go Local gets bigger, we can now pretty much service any customer within the north of England and Wales, and down towards the Midlands.

“For me, I would love to take Go Local further south. We might do something with our current depot estate, but who knows with what’s happening in our sector at the moment? It’s an exciting time for Parfetts.”

Dream big. That’s what Steve Jobs would have done, after all.

Parfetts Unitas wholesale wholesaler