As a retailer, you have choices on how you stock your shelves with the products your customers seek. You can purchase product directly from the manufacturer, shop around at wholesale and cash and carry outlets yourself, or you can work with a distribution partner who represents a number of brands and products.
If your time is of the essence and you appreciate industry expertise and product guidance, working with a distribution partner can make your retail life easier.
The wholesale distribution industry is highly fragmented and consists of both small, privately-owned businesses and large, full-service distributors serving multiple geographic regions. Whether you’re just starting out as an independent retailer or have been in business for a number of years, it’s important to evaluate your distribution channels and establish the right fit for you and your business.
Convenience & Carwash Canada reached out to a number of distributors and asked them five questions about their business and sustainability practices, the value they bring to the table, a retailer’s role in a successful partnership, and what interesting or unique products they represent. Below are responses from Eric Rolheiser, president Canada, at Core-Mark International, Pat Carey, president at Wallace & Carey Inc.; and Stéphane Bouchard, vice president, Distribution at Regitan Ltd.
1. What type of distribution service do you offer C&G retailers and what ethical and sustainability practices do you incorporate?
Core-Mark [CM]: Core-Mark delivers high levels of service, innovative marketing programs, technology solutions and logistical support. We operate with a continuous improvement philosophy, with efficient buildings, reusable shipping containers where possible, and robust recycling programs. We upgraded our refrigerated capacity with chill docks and tri-temperature trailers, which gives us the capability to deliver frozen, chilled and non-refrigerated goods in a single delivery.
Wallace & Carey [WC]: Wallace & Carey offers standard industry drop and go services, hybrid distribution, which includes instore order taking, and direct to store delivery (DSD) services, with full merchandising, rotation and planogram support. We support recycling programs for packaging and shipping material, as well as abide by all provincial environmental programs. Our network of refrigerated distribution centres, tri-temperature fleet, and dedicated teammates position as a leading last-mile distributor to deliver cost savings, exceptional service and value to our customers.
Regitan [R]: As a fourth-generation family business based out of Quebec, Regitan is a wholesale distributor, from drop ship to e-commerce. We also offer third party logistics support and deliver to locations where DSD can’t reach. We believe in sustainable practices with a focus on efficiency. We offer paperless invoices by email and online data management. We are well organized with proper delivery fill rates and correct billing practices.
2. As someone in the middle, how do you best meet the needs of the manufacturers that you represent and the clients you work with?
[CM]: We offer increased purchasing power, the ability to service large national chain accounts, economies of scale in sales and operations, and the resources to invest in information technology and other strategic solutions, such as Focused Marketing Initiative (FMI) and SmartStock, a full-service marketing program that offers qualified Core-Mark customers the key benefits of top category management, quality racks and weekly instore merchandising services – focusing on top selling products. SmartStock specialists manage ordering, rotating, labeling and writing credits; thereby assisting the retailer in labour and merchandising, while driving store sales and profits.
[WC]: We are uniquely positioned to manage distribution and supply chain services throughout Canada in both B2B and e-commerce environments with EDI and FTP order capture and telemarketing support. We also meet regularly with suppliers and customers to assess their needs and drive true three-way communications, resulting in trust from all parties that Wallace and Carey understands their business and is best positioned to support them with solutions, such as route to market, product availability and innovation services.
[R]: We are customer service centric and believe in regular communication. We call our customers to let them know of the deals our suppliers are proposing; we issue daily emails announcing various promotions; and mail monthly flyers that advise retailers of trending products, suggested retail prices and offer samples of new products. We don’t have restrictive clauses in working with us nor do we require any of our retail clients to sign a contract to deal with us. Our drivers are experienced, courteous and represent Regitan in a professional manner. We represent over 8,000 skus and have the best interests of our customers and manufacturers in moving product and driving profitability.
3. What interesting or unique products do you supply to the C&G channel?
[CM]: Two interesting items that we offer c-stores are bananas and novelty ice creams. They’re extremely fragile, the most difficult food item to handle and require a specific shipping temperature that we manage through thermal totes. Also, with recent legislative changes in the vaping space, we are working on some exciting non-combustible nicotine products to support our customers as tobacco consumption habits shift to alternative products.
[WC]: We have a diverse selection of unique products across fresh food, confection and grocery categories. Wallace & Carey supplies the C&G retailer with numerous opportunities to create hot food programs, instore promotional programs and other offerings that drive retail sales.
[R]: We are proud to represent a number of products, including Canada’s own PRANA organic nuts and Bad Monkey popcorn; Kosher foods; and European products. Two brands in particular that draw a lot of attention are OSEM, one of the largest Kosher companies featuring healthier alternative foods, such as organic wines and gluten-free breads. We also sell large volumes of Kombucha drinks. There is no product that a customer can’t get through us – frozen, refrigerated or dry foods.
4. Are there instances where it might make better sense for the retailer to shop directly or purchase from the manufacturer directly rather than go through a distributor?
[CM]: Core-Mark’s Vendor Consolidation Initiative (VCI) targets inefficiencies in the convenience store supply chain by offering the retailer the ability to receive multiple weekly deliveries for merchandise they previously purchased from multiple direct-store delivery companies. This simplifies the customer supply chain and provides retailers with an opportunity to improve inventory turns and working capital, reduce operational and transaction costs, and greatly diminish retailer’s out-of-stocks. Combining VCI with weekly merchandising (SmartStock) provides retailers a better value option than the multiple vendor alternative.
[WC]: It may, at times, appear that discount shopping or direct buy is advantageous. When experienced, it becomes clear very quickly that discounters do not have the product selection or the product freshness a wholesale distributor can offer. Buying direct from the manufacturer requires the retailer to take larger volumes of inventory that they can hold in their store or turn to maintain freshness. Utilizing a wholesaler, such as Wallace & Carey, allows the retailer to place an order with our Online Ordering Processing System in a fraction of the time it would take to write an order, drive to the club, load the product, then drive back an unload at the store. It also allows you to order in various quantities. Lastly, cost is also a key consideration. As a wholesale distributor, we are also able to purchase product at discounted rates from manufacturers due to the volume we buy. We have a wider range of product mix, better costs, and are the most efficient option for retailers.
[R]: We recognize and appreciate that your time is valuable. By establishing a relationship with a wholesale distributor, like Regitan, and building a credit history, we can help you save time, effort and energy by allowing us to focus on your product requirements. Rather than be away from your store and shop piecemeal, we can offer you great deals, advise you on industry trends and other relevant information, such as taxes on tobacco and rising costs of chocolate, for example.
5. What work is required of a retailer in working with a distribution partner?
[CM]: We need customers to partner with us in developing a comprehensive retail marketing strategy to better serve their store. The first step is to complete a Focused Marketing Initiative survey (FMI) that allows us to gather valuable category insights, optimized retail pricing strategy, demographic decision-making, and retail space utilization. We then develop a comprehensive retail marketing plan at store level utilizing our SmartStock program, which includes custom planograms for top moving products and weekly in store merchandising.
[WC]: We listen to our customers, then design and adapt our services to meet their changing business needs. Depending on the type of distribution model chosen (drop and go, hybrid, and DSD), the retailer may need to place its own orders, receive and place product after delivery or utilize one of our value-add services such as hybrid or DSD that provides instore order taking, merchandising and planogram support.
[R]: Retailers are not required to sign a contract or commit to annual buying purchases. They buy what they need as they need it. We ask our customers to make room for our drivers, take the time to review their order, and be proactive with our customer service agents. Communication is paramount. We do everything possible to make it easy to work with us and have you thrive in your business.
Meline Beach is a Toronto-based communications practitioner and frequent contributor to Convenience & Carwash Canada. In addition to freelance writing, Meline provides communications and public relations support to businesses across Canada. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.