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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Factors in the location of the wholesale grocery industry in metropolitan Vancouver Begg, Hugh M.

Abstract

This thesis presents a conceptual framework within which a geography of wholesaling may be pursued and illustrates it in terms of a case study carried out in Vancouver, British Columbia. In particular the research draws attention to the significance of the locative decision, and the institutional framework within which it is made in accounting for the distribution of wholesaling activity. The essence of the wholesaling function is that, in contrast to retailing, it consists of business transactions with other than ultimate consumers. The wholesaler typically serves as a break of bulk and regrouping point to which goods are shipped in bulk, and from which they are distributed in order lots as required by the customer. The relevant body of substantive theory was examined with a view to generating explanatory hypotheses for the distribution of wholesale grocers in Metropolitan Vancouver. In essence this literature postulated that distribution centres such as wholesale grocers, ceteris paribus, tend to locate at the point of minimum cost of distribution and maximum accessibility to their markets. A reconnaissance of the case area suggested, however, that a number of "distorting" factors were important in an adequate interpretation of the pattern. A more complex research orientation seemed to be required. Accordingly the locational pattern of the wholesale grocers in Metropolitan Vancouver was considered as the net resultant of the locative decisions of its constituent entrepreneurs. The institutional framework of the industry in Metropolitan Vancouver was considered as the context of the locator's decision. The function, technology, market structure and control aspects were studied and a number of relevant locational factors isolated. It was found that entrepreneurs can, and do, evaluate and rank site factors in terms of their long run business objectives. Where their location is, in their view, inadequately serviced, especially vis-a-vis other sites, they will express dis-satisfaction. When dis-satisfaction is strong enough the locator will move to a new and, to him, more appropriate site. It was concluded that Vancouver's role as a distribution centre for wholesale grocers was secure. Within the Metropolitan area, however, the locational pattern of wholesale grocers was in flux. It was concluded that the downtown area was, and would continue to be at a disadvantage to more peripheral areas as a local for wholesale grocery establishments. Further, those firms which had maintained downtown locations were those dealing in specialised merchandise with a high value to volume ratio; those whose sales volumes did not require large sites; those which had a specific market or other over-riding locational factor (e.g. lack of capital) influencing the choice of a downtown site. Firms which had moved to more peripheral sites tended to be larger companies requiring large areas of floor space, free flowing highway conditions, or were dealing in nationally known branded goods where proximity to a downtown market was not vital. The conclusions formed in this study are valid only for the industry, the area and the time period under consideration. It remains for further studies of grocery wholesaling to be made at other times and places to test their general applicability. It is hoped, however, that the conceptual framework within which the study was conducted and the research techniques which were utilised will provide a methodological orientation universally suitable for the development of a geography of wholesaling whose empirically derived principles will form a segment of a unifying theory for economic geography.

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