Andrew Thornton on Petrol, Plastic and Purpose: Our visit to the Handel & Wandel conference, Berlin, February 2020

Last week Eudora and I went to the city of Berlin to attend and speak at “Handel & Wandel in Tankstellen und Convenience Shops” – “Trade and Change in Petrol Stations and Convenience Shops”. This is an annual gathering of people in the convenience stores and petrol stations field, sponsored by Convenience Shop magazine.

drinks reception

The conference started with a drinks reception, where about 170 people gathered to meet and network. This annual conference has been going for nearly 25 years so is an important event in the calendar for people in the industry to connect, re-connect and exchange ideas.

The current trends of businesses buying other businesses was discussed – this is occurring more and more in the UK and the US. The question was asked – is this a direction Germany should go in? We also heard about how petrol stations are transforming into places where people sit to eat and drink, and how there is a demand for them to be safe, clean and pleasant places for people to spend time. Also, we heard how the digitisation of purchasing is changing the way they are run. The question was discussed – do we continue to focus on the existing model of selling convenience foods or do we change to plastic-free?

Andrew's talk

My talk in the morning was entitled: “Thornton’s Budgens: Using Purpose to create a long term sustainable future”. I spoke about our journey to plastic-free; how we’re living in a challenging time with the climate crisis; and how crucial Purpose is to business. In particular, I talked about the Japanese concept of “Ikigai” – how finding our own personal purpose in life – doing what we love and are good at – is crucial to our wellbeing.

I shared my belief that organisations and businesses need to find, and work towards, their shared purpose as well. Only then can they achieve great things. Businesses need to do things differently – chasing only profits will never be fulfilling. Only by helping other people, and our planet, will we innovate and inspire. For example, by creating our Plastic Free zones at Thornton’s Budgens, we are inspiring others to do the same and creating the seeds of change. Not only does the planet need this but our customers want it too. Here’s the proof – sales went up by 4% as soon as we started our plastic free zones.

I hope that by sharing our story, we inspired others at the conference to consider their purpose. To consider how keeping people and the planet at the forefront of your business strategy is the way forward. It is future-proofing your business.

Eudora's workshop

Later in the day, Eudora ran a highly interactive workshop on Authentic Leadership and Employee Engagement. Mobile devices were cast aside, and people got into pairs, facing each other, for a session of active listening. People asked each other, in turn, ‘who was your best and worst boss, and why?’. For some, this way of interacting was a big step in a new direction, but people embraced the challenge and everyone had 10 mins of being truly listened to.

We left the conference feeling positive – sustainability is a critical issue, and purpose is the life-blood of organisations. The business leaders who we met at Handel and Wandel 2020 are really interested in exploring how to do things differently. We look forward to hearing how they get on.