Nisbets' Strategy for Running a Growing Wholesale Business

Businesses that not only survive but thrive over decades while remaining in the ownership of their founders tend to be in the minority. Yet, not only is Maginus one such business but within our customer base there is another member of that elite club, leading catering supplier Nisbets.

For those unfamiliar with the Nisbets business it was founded in 1983, as a catalogue business selling equipment to restaurants and cafes in the South West. Since then the company has grown to supply the whole of the UK, moved into new international markets, developed its own brands, launched an online store and opened high street shops.  They currently turn over £250m annually, with a profit of £32m, have 2,000 employees, and trade in various markets in Europe as well as Australia, with an annual growth rate of 10%.

Founder Andrew Nisbet recently spoke about how the company has evolved since he founded it 33 years ago at a recent DCA event in London and gave his top tips on running a successful and growing wholesale business.


Developing Branded Products

Originally launched as a pure-catalogue distribution business, Nisbets has since launched a wide variety of its own branded products including its ‘Polar’ range of fridges and freezers and the ‘Vogue’ range of saucepans, all of which are entirely designed and managed by Nisbets.

Nisbets branded ranges complement those offered by their suppliers and, despite initial scepticism from them, Nisbets have proven that they can successfully co-exist. Furthermore Nisbets have taken the unique approach of making their products available through other 3rd party suppliers. Andrew identified the following reasons why he felt this strategy had been a success:

  • Enables you to take greater control over your products

  • Creates another layer of identity that can help secure future revenue.

  • If a Nisbets customer moves supplier there is still the opportunity to provide Nisbets’ products through a third party supplier.  


Andrew advised that in order to make it a success a strong mid-market position is needed to deliver the volume of sales required to make the product cost effective.  He went on to note that he believes the creation of Nisbets own brands will help to protect the business as Amazon starts to enter the market.


International Expansion

After initially expanding to serve the Dutch market, Nisbets has since opened operations in Belgium, Germany, France, Spain and Australia. Andrew noted during his presentation that entering new markets had been key to the company’s strong year-on-year growth.

Andrew identified the biggest challenges to be:

  • Logistics - where is the warehouse going to be and how can you ship cost effectively?

  • How to enter the market – will you be a start-up, will you work with a partner or will you do it via acquisition? He suggested that acquisition is the easiest way to do so successfully.


Andrew stressed that to be successful in a new market you must adapt practices to reflect local customs, working habits and customer expectations, saying that getting to know the market inside out will be critical to ensure long term success.


Moving Online

In his presentation, Andrew admitted he had initially resisted moving online as, at heart, he was a ‘catalogue man’. However he had come to accept that in order to remain competitive the business had to modernise.  While he stated it is impossible to assess whether the eCommerce offering had cannibalised sales they would have received anyway, he said that going online has enabled them to ensure they can transact with customers in the way they want to.


The Biggest Challenge

Andrew revealed that his biggest challenge running a business was staff retention saying that staff churn in the call centre was 40% annually. He explained that this created challenges in terms of training and delivering continual good service to customers. To overcome this Nisbets has invested heavily in staff benefits and opened new facilities including a canteen.



Andrew concluded his presentation by giving his top three pieces of advice for operating a business:

1.     Learn and don’t be afraid to copy other businesses

2.     Be innovative in order to find a way to differentiate yourself from your competition

3.     Experience “uncomfortable enjoyment”. Don’t get comfortable, always strive for more but enjoy it.

Andrew rarely presents at events so it was fantastic to gain some insight into his business success.

If you would like help in taking your business online please get in touch.

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