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Matthew Clark comes out fighting fit after major restructure

Published:  06 March, 2019

National wholesaler Matthew Clark says it is firmly back on track, with a far-reaching restructure of the business completed and having “delivered one of the best Christmas in terms of service and performance”, according to managing director David Phillips (pictured above).

Speaking to the press for the first time since new owners C&C Group picked up Matthew Clark and paid down all its debts following the collapse of Conviviality, Phillips, who rejoined the business last April, explained that he was given a brief to first stabilise the business and then refocus it around its customers.

“We’ve been through a period of restructuring, over the course of the back end of last year, which we were a little quiet about. We needed to restructure our business to get closer to our customers,” said Phillips.

“Matthew Clark was in some ways unrecognisable to the business I left in 2015, it had become very centralised, and probably lost sight of the most important people out there,” he added.

After an absence of two years from the trade tasting circuit, Phillips used the first of four newly formatted regional ‘Uncovered’ tastings, in London, to announce the creation of five regional business units and a clear division of the company into a national and managed retail business arm, plus an independent free trade division, each representing around half of Matthew Clark’s combined business.

“With the independent free trade, which we see in some respects as our bread and butter, you need localisation… so we have five regional directors, who will lead our business going back into Scotland, the north of England, the Midlands and East Anglia, London and South East, and into what historically was a heartland for us, the South and South West,” said Phillips.

Managed retail, meanwhile, has been drawn together under one head office, with a sales team based around the country, supporting individual customers and accounts.

“We had this huge infrastructure, so we’ve pushed down, and now we’ve got more sales people, more localised managers as a result, and pretty much the same head count level in the business as we had in 2015 – we are closer to the customer and we are excited about that,” said Phillips.

Asked where he expected growth to come from, Phillips said the market was seeing “a renaissance” in wet led pubs, bars and venues, with some great concepts “seeing fantastic growth”, but significant challenges in the casual dining market.

“What Matthew Clark has done successfully over the years is picked and invested in some of the smaller businesses that have gone on to become some of the chains that we have today,” said Phillips.

“We are really proud of the long term national relationships we have and now we are looking for the next ones - someone that has got a great set of operations, maybe 10 outlets, and where are they going to be 30, 40 or 50 outlets in 10 years time.”

He also predicted that the market would continue to consolidate and polarise between operators that can offer a wide choice to customers, and those specialists that have a niche offering.

Matthew Clark’s head of wine buying Simon Jerrome (pictured below) was also on hand at the Uncovered tasting, where a selection of many new additions to an arsenal of 7,500 skus of wines, spirits, beers and soft drink were unveiled to the trade.

Zoning of the event into areas such as ‘Discovery’, ‘Future-proofing’, ‘Sustainability’ and ‘Homegrown’, along with more esoteric wine offerings much in evidence from countries as diverse as Greece, Turkey, Austria and Hungary, gave lie to the scale of Matthew Clark’s on-trend ambitions looking ahead.

Jerrome indicated that the range could well grow to 10,000 products over the next couple of years, adding that the company has also built up a "multi-million" pound stockpile as a buffer against a disruptive Brexit.