In the latest in a series of ‘Talking Business’ interviews, Jason Wouhra of East End Foods chats to TheBusinessDesk.com publisher Marc Reeves, and KPMG‘s Narinder Paul.
The quiet success of East End Foods, the ethnic food and wholesale business of the Wouhra family has perhaps gone relatively unnoticed in the West Midlands since its humble beginnings exactly 40 years ago in Wolverhampton.
But as the business enters its fifth decade as a £100m turnover concern with a brand new wholesale depot on the former site of Birmingham’s iconic HP Sauce factory in Aston, the secret is now most definitely out.
Jason is part of the second generation of the Wouhra family to lead the business that was founded by his uncles after they immigrated to the UK from New Delhi in the early 1970s. Jason has taken the lead on the new development, with the Wouhra’s typically sleeves-rolled-up-approach keeping him on-site for much of the eight month construction period by contractors John Sisk.
He still found time, however, to become the first deputy chair of the newly formed Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership, as well as sitting on the regional board of the Prince’s Trust. He’s also an active supporter of the Institute of Directors, among many other commitments.
The East End ‘secret’ is one that is deceptively simple, based on the family’s continued stewardship and leadership, but is also one that could be too easily dismissed by those business people raised in more ‘corporate’ environments.
Its benefits, however, are writ large in the new £10.5m wholesale depot, which will soon be joined by a hotel, a cookery school and an innovative ‘urban farm’ development.
And East End’s new wholesale palace is no old-fashioned cash & carry emporium, says Jason on a tour of the new facility.
“We’ve taken very much a retail approach in the new development,” he said. “Wholesale is becoming much more consumer focused and we’re even more a relationship business than ever before.”
The new depot is aiming for a weekly turnover of £2m. Visit on any day of the week and owners of small independent shops – Asian corner shops are the Wouhra’s bread and butter – are there in their hundreds stocking up on East End’s own-brand imported and processed rice and spices as well as everything else you might want from your local store.
The Wouhras pounced on the iconic former HP site after owners Heinz moved sauce production to the Netherlands in 2007, with the site demolished in late 2009. East End started construction in early 2011 and it was completed pretty much on schedule.
The development’s swift progress is, says Jason an example of the benefits of running a family business.
He said: “Sometimes family businesses can seem over-prudent, but this pays off in situations like this because we can take our savings and put them straight away into the business. We try to borrow as little as possible. There’s a very tiny amount in this deal, but even that will be cleared very quickly. This may be a good time to get bargain plots for development like this, but how many businesses actually have the resources to hand like we did?”
“If you look back at our history and how we started, my uncles went without for many many years. For us the business comes first – you feed and water that plant and in time create a good sustainable business.”