News Industry Profile Hg Gladwell Sons



Industry Profile: HG Gladwell & Sons
9th April 2014

By Sandra Pearce

Located on a six-acre site south of Ipswich, wholesaler, manufacturer and distributor HG Gladwell & Sons wears a number of hats, yet each is intricately interwoven, with the independent retailer at the core. Sandra Pearce visits to learn more about the family business

Over the last five years, HG Gladwell & Sons has been working hard to shake off its legacy as ‘just’ a manufacturer of wild bird mixes at Copdock Mill, Ipswich. “We are so much more than that,” says business development manager Andy Morgan. Employing 125 people, he says HG Gladwell & Sons is, in fact, the largest wholesaler in the Eastern region, covering a massive territory radiating from East Anglia across to Wiltshire, down to Southampton and up to Birmingham.

Andy Morgan shows Crafty Catcher bait hot off the production line

Its warehouse is a substantial 80,000sq ft with over 7,000 product lines, all ably managed by Derrick Ladbrook. A new extension with mezzanine is being planned, which will add a further 20,000sq ft. Retailers can phone in, fax or email their orders, and online ordering is in the pipeline.

Managing director Simon Gladwell, who represents the fourth generation in this family-run business, says strategically the business is at an exciting time of its development, and is well placed to deliver as the country recovers from the recession. As it is, the company sends out 15 HGVs each day, making deliveries to more than 1,200 trade customers on a weekly or fortnightly basis.

Three principles are set in stone, says Simon: Service, Availability and Price. “We aim to offer the best service in the industry. Availability is very important – there is no point trying to sell something you do not have and if you short deliver something, your customers will remember you for it. As for price, we strive to always be competitive, but remembering that sometimes customers will pay a bit more for the good service they receive.”

Good service and quality go hand in hand, and as a wholesaler, it is determined that each delivery arrives in the best possible condition, and so each pallet is not just shrink wrapped but also ‘hooded’ to protect the goods from the elements above. “It costs, but we think it is well worth the spend,” says

The company has also recently invested in new business intelligence software, and both Simon and Andy’s faces light up when they talk of what is obviously their ‘new baby’. In a nutshell, the software helps analyse all manner of data, giving them more insight into their business. “It stands us apart from some other wholesalers,” says Simon. It can cut right down to finite details such as which retailer is selling peanuts but not wild bird feeders, therefore identifying potential extra sales. “We want to fill those lorries up every day.”

Just under a quarter of the company’s annual turnover is based on ‘the products we manufacture’, says Simon, referring to the vast quantities of goods produced. On average this comes to 50 to 60 tonnes of food each day, from wild bird to poultry to small animal, in bulk, prepack and own label. Its poultry range is currently undergoing a redesign, and its robust bags are made from rodent-proof polypropylene. Its Range Layers Pellets with added Verm-X is a huge USP for the retailer. This is proving especially popular and is a totally unique product that is seeing rapid growth.

There is continuous investment in machinery and technology, such as in robot packers and automatic pallet wrappers. “To think we used to do this all by hand,” remarks Andy.

HG Gladwell & Sons is also home to the pet food brands Brigadier’s Choice and Corporal’s Crunch. Brigadier’s Choice, was introduced because pet owners were looking for ‘a premium product but not at a premium price’, says Andy. The value-range Corporal’s Crunch caters for the price-conscious customer and flies out at quite a rate.

Venturing into other fields
“We have to keep on our toes, and we have to diversify,” says Andy. So apart from wearing the hats of wholesaler and manufacturer, HG Gladwell & Sons also has a chain of seven retail stores. But this does not mean that the company is in competition with the independent retailer, as both Simon and Andy explain.

Its stores in Bury St Edmunds, Copdock, Faversham, Peterborough, Rayleigh, Rushden and Stowmarket were either ‘built up from scratch’ or the result of an acquisition. Stores must be a minimum of 5,000sq ft, allow access to the company’s HGVs, and offer ample parking for customers. “The High Street is not our style,” says Simon. “Having a trade counter presence gives us some useful market intelligence on what products are worth adding to our trade catalogue. Our regional sales representatives can go out with the knowledge that the products and brands that they are representing do actually sell through!”

Another benefit of having a trade counter is that smaller pet shops and farm shops are able to purchase products or trial a new item, with no minimum order. Trade customers can call in an order and two hours later, collect what they need.

The company says it vets all its trade customers carefully, from checking paperwork to store visits, the latter of which are imperative for deliveries to ensure vehicles have easy access.

Always looking for new opportunities, in October 2012, HG Gladwell & Sons bought bait manufacturer Crafty Catcher, serving the carp and coarse angler. There are about 1,050 angling shops in the UK, says Andy, and this market was being actively explored when Crown Pet Foods announced in July 2012 that it was pulling its distribution from wholesalers. Plans were brought forward to help plug the hole left with the withdrawal of Royal Canin and James Wellbeloved food. Selling bait offers a good opportunity to the pet retailer, says Andy, explaining that angling is the biggest participant sport in the UK, and a number of dog and pet owners will be active anglers. “If pet shops want to look at fishing bait, it’s a fantastic opportunity.”

Crafty Catcher has been trialled successfully in all their stores, he adds, though the bait season tends to be seasonal, running from Easter to September. “But it brings new ideas into shops at a critical time when all independents need that extra edge on the big pet store chains.”

All bait is made on site at Copdock Mill, and the range includes boilies, wafters, tip-offs, pellets and candies. The brand is also seeing healthy growth in the export market, with customers across Europe including in Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic. From March, HG Gladwell & Son will also be distributing international brand Van Den Eynde Baits, which complements its in-house brand and gives retailers more choice for their customers. 

From seed manufacturer to pet wholesaler to retailer and now bait wholesaler, yet there is another aspect to HG Gladwell & Sons that forms a huge part of its turnover. Over a quarter, in fact, is wholesaling in the equine market. Spearheading this phenomenal growth is commercial manager Gina Wilden, who is nudging her quarter-century mark with the company. Gina came from an equine background as she used to race point-to-point and was selling horse feed. “Horse to us is a very, very important part of our business. It gives us a really big edge over the likes of big nationals, because we can offer such a diverse mix,” she says.

It was her observing customers and identifying their needs and lifestyles that opened the door all those years ago. She explains: “It is not rocket science. When you have customers coming through the door who are predominantly farmers, who buy, for example, sheep nuts, then when you load up their car and you see riding boots and a dog, you think, hang on; you are not buying horse or dog food from us. It was a natural progression; it’s about keeping your eyes open.”

Nutritional advances in equine nutrition meant the industry changed at a dizzying pace, but it was important to keep up with the new products coming to market. “Before, feeding horses meant bran, oats, nuts and sugar beet pulp. Then the manufacturers came in with a coarse mix for horses, then they set to develop a food for old horses, a food for young horses, food for horses that put on weight, all these types came on to the market.”

With a much wider food offering, there was ‘good, natural progression’ to items like supplements, potions and lotions, shampoos, feed buckets, bedding.

“People want choice,” she says simply. “I spend a lot of my time with ears to the ground, listening to people asking ‘Have you got…’. I am always looking for products to take in.”

With that ear to the ground, chances are there will always be something new and different at HG Gladwell & Sons to tempt retailers.