Workplace360: There’s a perception in the market that there has been a staff exodus from VOW Wholesale and EVO Group. How would you respond to that?
Adrian Butler: I would summarise it in three words: context, refresh and empowerment. Let me expand and put it into context. In any business when there is a new leader, change is inevitable.
I have worked with Andrew [Gale, the EVO Group CEO appointed in December 2022] for more than ten years. He has his own vision regarding the structure of the business and one of the key aspects he did right from the start was look at empowering the EVO trading board and senior leadership team while putting the right people in the right roles.
My own position is a good example of that. I had been overseeing some of the groups, sales, commercial and operations functions for the previous couple of years. One of the first things Andrew said to me was: “I want you to focus 100% on VOW.” Even after 28 years, I still get excited about wholesaling, so that was a good move for me.
Another key message from Andrew was he wanted management who were “up for it” and he was clear that it was time for a refresh. In December, there was an EVO board appraisal, with a review of the wider senior leadership team in Q1. This process has now concluded. Some people have left the business as a result, and we thank them for their service. EVO’s leadership has been reshaped and refreshed and we are now on the front foot.
This has created opportunities – there have been more than 30 promotions across the group at the middle-to-senior management level. At the same time, leaders have been empowered and given the autonomy to do their jobs. This has helped galvanise everyone and drive a very different culture in the business. More widely, equity/bonus incentives have been aligned and long service awards reintroduced with several new staff benefits. There is more to come.
W360: Cynics might say the previous CFO has now got the top job and has an agenda to cut costs.
AB: Andrew is much more than a numbers man. He has been waiting for this opportunity and there is a big focus and drive on building a better business. In simple terms, sales and margins are up, stock fill is much better and costs are controlled. We have concentrated on honing the basics and the improvement in the past few months has been pretty significant.
W360: To what extent has there been a ‘rightsizing’ at VOW?
AB: No ‘rightsizing’ really in VOW, but yes, some tweaks. We have mainly focused on getting our core right – pricing, fill and service. Our fill rate is materially better from where we were 12 months ago. We’ve reintroduced our early morning dealer drops.
Our warehouse and transport functions have improved their performance and I believe we have the right team – with the right blend of experience. Leaders at VOW are fully dedicated to providing the best service we can to our customers.
W360: How does the current management structure of VOW compare with the previous one?
AB: We’ve added roles because we needed a bit more leadership (read VOW Wholesale senior team at a glance below) and we have a great mix of experience and skill sets.
W360: In a nutshell, what are the advantages of this new set-up?
AB: It really is a mindset change. Empowerment and autonomy are probably the main differences. VOW leaders are able to run the business, work with our resellers, and live and die by our decisions made as a senior team.
W360: You mentioned ‘culture’ earlier; how would you define the VOW culture today?
AB: Referring to both VOW and the wider EVO Group, I believe we have a very different culture right now compared with six months ago. What Andrew has done is inspire approximately 60 senior leaders across the group (including VOW managers) who meet every month and have quarterly updates.
We now have an alignment of incentives in a sort of ‘all for one, one for all’ model, which I see as a smart move. For the first time in a long time, the EVO trading and senior leadership team are all pulling in the same direction – it is a pretty exciting place to work currently.
W360: How is the overall business performing so far this year?
AB: From a VOW perspective, we have had our best H1 for a number of years, including pre-COVID, but we are not complacent. We want our suppliers and customers to make some money and we need to make some as well. From a group perspective, our results have improved significantly in recent months.
W360: What are some of the operational areas you have been focusing on over the past eight months?
AB: Fundamentally, we are not a complicated business, although we may have overcomplicated it over the years. There are two key things that we’ve done since the start of the year.
We’ve improved our fill rate significantly. Fill rates have been a challenge throughout the pandemic and Brexit but through our efforts and our suppliers’ actions, we’ve now got them back to pre-COVID levels. So we have the goods.
We’ve also listened. Early morning drops are important for resellers, so we’ve reintroduced them.
W360: That will have pleased a lot of your customers.
AB: Yes, am drops have gone down well. It took probably the best part of three or four months to make sure we’d rolled it out in an orderly fashion and in the right way, and there is still some fine-tuning to do. Currently, 95% of VOW’s dealer drops are before 8.30 am, whereas it was about 50% this time last year – that’s quite a shift in terms of service.
W360: To what extent were those stock fill rates of your own making as opposed to supply chain issues?
AB: It was a bit of both, but we understand the challenges our suppliers have faced during these past few years with the pandemic and leaving the EU. Seven or eight months ago, 10% of deliveries into our Arrow distribution centre were not being made on time, but this is now much improved. I’d like to thank the suppliers for their efforts.
Something else I would highlight is the renewed autonomy in the sales force. The VOW sales team is back out and seeing dealers again and they’ve got to have the autonomy to make decisions, whether that’s commercial terms, pricing or service enhancements. We believe in empowering our people and supporting them to do their job.
W360: Finally, what are some of the key issues you’re looking to tackle in the coming months?
AB: If I was to choose two, the first is enhancing technology for our service proposition. For example, real-time tracking on direct deliveries and how we can utilise technology more.
Second is how we can change the product mix a bit faster – removing, if you will, the ‘tail’ of the tail products within our warehouse and putting in different goods that are moving. It’s a balancing act, but something we’re firmly onto.
You should ask me in six months how we have done.
W360: I hope to be able to do that. Thanks for your time, Adrian.
VOW Wholesale senior team at a glance
- Phillippa Bourne, Head of Marketing: responsible for developing the VOW brand proposition and enhancing customer communications. Joined 2009
- Adrian Butler, Managing Director. Joined 1990
- Darren Renshaw, Dealer Development Director: focused on relationships with dealer groups. Joined 2020
- Colin Streeter, Channel Development Director: responsible for online resellers and retail. Joined 2022
- Dan Taylor, Commercial Director: responsible for developing and implementing commercial strategies. Joined 2015
- Nikki Todd, National Sales Director: responsible for customer service teams and core wholesale customer base (including the new reseller channel). Joined 2011