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March 28 2023

Success in wholesale? It's all about good relationships

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STL Technology Solutions Managing Director Ivan Durkin champions the importance of personal connections 

If it wasn’t for the strength of my relationships, I wouldn’t be here today. It’s a statement that’s probably true for a significant number of people within the food and drink wholesale sector and has been since I started working in it in the 70s.

A lot has changed since my first day at Metro Discount Stores in 1978, but the importance of being able to make connections with people and show you understand the industry’s inner-workings remains one of the most important. 

It was a lesson I learned relatively early in my career. I’d worked for 10 years at Metro (which became First Choice Foodservice) at a reasonably senior level before ERP specialist, Riva, asked me to join them because they felt my experience would be a good fit for the wholesale arm of their business. I found myself working with some huge operators within the UK and I was fully immersed in the wholesale cash and carry and delivered sector.

When Riva was taken over by new owners, I saw an opportunity to start STL as a wholesale ERP specialist, but we needed some funding to develop the technology – and part of the funding came from the wholesalers we’d been working with. 

If we hadn’t built really strong relationships throughout the sector, STL wouldn’t be here today – it was those connections that put STL on the map. When we needed support, the wholesalers came through for us and it couldn’t be a starker example of how important those relationships are.

That may have been two decades ago, but it’s still the same today. In fact, when we’re hiring someone to join our team at STL, that knowledge of wholesale and experience working in the sector is one of the key characteristics we’re looking for.

We try to find people to hire who have experience in wholesale and not just tech. I want to know that when they go into these environments, they can talk trade and the kind of terminology that wholesalers use.

Our Chief Technology Officer, Mark, is a great example of that. He’d worked for a large cash and carry group for several years before I met him at Riva and while he’s developed to become a high-level technician, his knowledge was first and foremost in wholesale. It means that compared to someone who was solely a technician, whenever he goes into a wholesale operator, they take to him straight away. It’s because he understands everything about wholesale, so the relationship is there and can be built very quickly.

It’s part of the reason why this sector is such a tight-knit community. Go to an industry conference or event and there’s an audible buzz created by like-minded people talking about their ideas and renewing relationships. Being involved in and adding to those conversations is the lifeblood of an employee in the wholesale industry.

The wholesalers we work with reap the benefits of our knowledge and understanding. Our customers regularly come to us with ideas and we’re able to challenge and work with them to find a suitable solution that’s really slick. Equally, we can come up with ideas that are tailored specifically to the wholesale environment – we did that once with biometrics after calling eight of our customers to discuss the idea, they all eventually adopted it in their businesses.

I’ve heard stories of other ERP providers that don’t have that specific industry knowledge taking a while to get to grips with the unique demands required by wholesale customers and progress being stunted because solutions don’t always fit as well as they previously thought.

Knowledge and relationships are power in wholesale. And it’s something I don’t see changing any time soon.

STL Technology Solutions are ERP partners of b2b.store, linking its operational technology into b2b.store's B2B eCommerce solution.