United looks to the north

Asim Sarwar, managing director United Wholesale (Scotland) has his sights set on expanding the business into the north of Scotland.
Asim Sarwar, managing director United Wholesale (Scotland) has his sights set on expanding the business into the north of Scotland.

• Wholesaler reports a £10m rise in turnover in last financial year.
• Reaches 275 Day-Today stores and 150 U-Save stores.

THE managing director of Glasgow-based wholesaler United Wholesale (Scotland) has spoken of his plans to expand into the north of the country following the acquisition of a depot in Falkirk.
In September the firm purchased M9 Cash & Carry in Grangemouth. It is also in the process of moving into Edinburgh, where it has acquired the 68,000 sq ft Terston House close to the city’s airport.
United MD Asim Sarwar told Scottish Grocer the acquisitions would allow the company to grow its business across the north and east of the country.
“The good thing about the M9 site is that it gives us access to the north,” he said. “So we’ll be able to develop Day-Today in Perth and Dundee. At the moment we don’t have a single store there. There are loads of c-stores but no Day-Today at all, so there’s a big gap in the market.
“We want to make it a national brand. I think we’re a bit away from that, but we’re slowly expanding the territory we cover. But we’re not just chasing numbers. We only want the best quality stores. We want to compete with the likes of Spar and Nisa and to be thought of as the very best in the industry.
“Glasgow is very competitive. Even when you speak to the suppliers they’ll tell you it’s like nowhere else in the country. It is the most competitive area there is, but I think we’ve been very successful in Glasgow and as long as we can replicate what we do here in the east then I think we will be successful there as well.
“I think the retailers are excited about us going over there. Everyone knows the pricing in Glasgow is cheaper than in Edinburgh, so retailers are looking forward to someone offering a level playing field.
“We always put the customer at the heart of our strategy and we won’t keep a differential because of area. We’ll look after our customers wherever they are.”
UWS took over the running of the M9 depot last month and Sarwar said the plan now was to revamp it.
“We’re going to double the number of checkouts, we’re going to add chilled and frozen, we’ll start selling bread and milk. The range of grocery and booze is not right, so we’ll have to fix that. And then we’ll start operating our Day-Today and U-Save retail club and symbol groups out of there, and give the customers the chance to get involved in that. There is quite a lot to be done.
“Currently turnover is around £400,000 a week, so we reckon we could get that up to about £750,000. It’ll take us a bit of time, but after a year or two we should be there.”
UWS has two established sites in Glasgow, the recently- expanded Maxwell Road unit on the city’s south side and Queenslie in the east of the city. It also has expanding symbol group operations with 275 stores using the Day-Today fascia and another 150 using its U-Save banner.
“U-Save has really taken off now,” said Sarwar. “We’ve actually done 100 stores in the last four months. There was one month where we did 62 fascias. I reckon we’ll get about 180 or 190 by the end of the year.
“There has been great demand for Day-Today, but a lot of customers don’t meet the criteria. Now we’ve got U-Save, which we can offer to the guys who don’t make the grade for Day-Today. In the last two years we rejected eight out of 10 stores applying for a Day-Today, so there are a lot of customers there.”
The firm has reported a £10m rise in turnover in its latest financial year. Turnover reached £222m for the year ending December 31, 2014, while pre-tax profit was £2.03m.
“I think that’s an okay performance given the climate,” said Sarwar. “Tobacco’s down and I think new legislation has had an impact on beers, wines and spirits sales. So considering the circumstances it’s decent.
“The wholesale market is tough, but there’s been some consolidation recently, which is good. It’s a tough market, but the ones who will win are the ones who crack their symbol or retail club offering. I think from that point of view we’re very well positioned.”