Five retailers discuss how their symbol groups support them and how they can improve
Anand Cheema, Costcutter - Fresh in Falkirk, Scotland
“I originally chose Costcutter because they had the freshest, newest ideas. Their growth projections and their way of retailing aligned with where I want us to take my business and my store, so for example, I wanted more of a focus on chilled and fresh foods.
“Second to that, then their own brands via the Co-op own label aligned with my micro projections and feelings we might have a difficult time with the cost of living crisis around the corner.
“The support has been great. I’ve had a lot of backing, I’ve had a lot of input within my business on how to grow and how to take it to the next level, so I’ve been really pleased with the overall package.
“Communication lines are brilliant, they’re quite a transparent company to work with, the lines are open whether I choose to make the calls or whether they call me.
It’s not a one level communication line either. There’s various levels so you can hear from senior personnel from the head office, right down to the business development manager.
“A lot of the early findings, we found may be slightly problematic for our business were quickly heard. If we were used to getting certain products through our previous symbol group that sold particularly well in our store that weren’t listed with either Nisa or Bestway, then it was quickly enlisted as a product on their range. Or they looked at different ways that we could get that product directly.
“Their buying power is a huge strength. There’s different avenues on how to get the product into store, different routes to market and there’s different ideas oncoming. We do particularly well with alcohol in our store. So with that, obviously they’ve got different avenues and different supplies that we use for different businesses like Bargain Booze, Wine Rack etc.
“Everyone can improve somewhere - I think they should align their online prices with their cash & carry prices more consistently.
“I feel very confident going forward with Costcutter, obviously the scale at which they’re growing, the size of the company and the family putting in a share with Sainsbury’s makes me think that they are serious about the future growth of the company and their retailers. It means that we’re not just tied to Nisa and the Co-op, there are other options out there for us.”
Atul Sodha, Londis Harefield, Middlesex
“I chose Londis many years ago, so I’ve stuck with them and built relationships. If I need something, they’ll do whatever they can.
“We get the promotions and we get the POS, but a lot of that POS doesn’t get used because of the size of the store.
“That said, if you want a readymade package of how to tackle convenience, and have some kind of know-how they’d be perfect to use. If someone is transitioning from CTN to convenience or if they’re going into convenience for the first time, then you want kind of a recognised brand above the door and Londis could be a good option. It depends on the retailer and the standards, it’s a working together sort of scenario. It was 50/50, I would say it’s 70/30 more so nowadays, with 70% by the retailer and 30% with the know-how and the readymade package from your symbol group.
“I don’t really need their advice anymore, I’ve been in this game for 34 years, so I should more or less know what I need. If there’s anything Londis-specific then we get lots of updates and daily emails. Or if a product is recalled, then in that sense it is handy because then you can go by what they’re saying to do, so due diligence-wise, it can be helpful if you’ve got that relationship in place.
“My development manager definitely hasn’t got as much experience as me, but if I need to clarify the route they would take then I can have that discussion with them. I suppose it is a form of security, and you also get the benefits of being part of the Association of Convenience Stores.
“Londis’ strength right now is having a recognised brand above the door and a good route to market - with Booker being the largest of them out there.
“Generally, Londis could improve on the personal touch that it used to have. In a sense, they’ve done their job with me because they’ve given me the basics, to work from.
“I don’t see any reason for me to leave. It serves a purpose. I need the product to come into the store, we get a good promotional base that we can choose from to show some value in store. And then it’s the perfect mix of having that kind of professional approach in them and me having my personal touch within my demographic.”
Bisi & Mayo Osundeko, Go Local, St Helens, Merseyside
Bisi: “When we took over the shop it didn’t have a symbol, but we did a bit of research. We found out all the special offers Go Local do, it’s actually really competitive prices. We liked the fact that it was an employee-owned symbol group, so it just sounded like a really ethical sort of business.”
Mayo: “One of the reasons why we chose Go Local was because being new to convenience retail, we need that kind of approach to be able to get the business running properly. Even though the shop has been there for over 20 years, with the rebranding and symbol support we have to quickly accelerate, it has been a very good decision for us. They supported us through the process of acquiring that shop. It was very run down and tired. They supported us with refurbishing the shop and with ideas - the layout of the chillers and the planograms. They sent six staff to support us with the set up and they were there for the first week to get the shop off the ground.”
Bisi: “Because we’d done our research on Go Local, we knew what to expect, but they even exceeded our expectations. We knew that we also had competition, so we really wanted to stand out in terms of how we looked, what we offered, how clean and tidy we were and our prices. We do our own social media posts, but their social media posts also sync to our Facebook page, so I don’t have to spend time doing it from scratch.
“Go Local really went above and beyond. It’s not just having a typical person on the phone to talk to. There is no question that too much. They’re really, really friendly and I think this ties in with the employee-owned brand ethos. There was always someone on the phone and I liked the fact that they were actually there physically as well [when we needed them]. There was a Whatsapp group and someone was assigned to us that we were able to chat at any time of the day. Even now, on a weekly basis we have our business manager visiting us and he actually puts up a promotional poster in front of the shop himself. They are very proactive.
“The joint managing director Guy Swindell noticed a post I’d put up on LinkedIn to celebrate the store being open a year. He approached me and said he loves our story and what we are doing in the community and then they printed vouchers for our customers. He actually came to our shop with Steve Miller and all the staff were so happy to see him.”
Mayo: “Pricewise they are good, but they should try and improve in terms of getting on the trends. For example, with Prime drinks - Booker has stocked them, but I don’t think Parfetts has made a move. They’re late to the party.
“Overall, we feel confident with them because that communication is always there, so if we’re going through anything, we’ll tell them and they’ll always find a way to fix it.”
Imran Mohammed, Calderwood Convenience Store (Spar), East Kilbride, Scotland
“Before Spar I was with a different symbol and I just wanted something different, a bigger brand, a more premium brand and a Scottish brand [with CJ Lang].
“My business development manager has been there for me every single time, whereas with the other group I had been with them for five years and I’d only met the regional development manager four or five times. Whereas the guys from Spar come out every six to eight weeks
“I needed that push as well, so I could better the business and take salesup. If I was doing something wrong, I needed someone to guide me and correct me because I’ve not always been in convenience stores.
“So far they’ve been great. I’ve been with them a year now and I’ve not had any issues and availability has been decent.
“If there is an issue, it does get resolved within maybe four weeks. For example, initially, the prices were more at the higher end, but the rebate that they do put them on a level with the rest of the wholesalers around here. The only problem we had was that we tried to get price marked stock. I don’t know if it was me, or because there was stuff going on in the background, but it was very minimal before, but now there’s a good range.
“I think their strength lies within the delivery side of things and the easy ordering system. They keep you up to date with everything - and every single day there’s daily news to let you know how they’re getting on and any new products coming in. If you need to contact somebody, there’s always someone there to speak to.
“I’ve got four or five managers in the area and I can get things fixed within the area - if there’s a problem with delivery I can get that rectified.
“Being a symbol group member has definitely made the business go up in terms of sales. I know inflation has gone up, but taking that into account, my sales are still up 5-8% since joining Spar.
“In terms of improvement, they could improve a bit more on their website. I order from other companies as well and it’s so handy to have mobile apps, so I can just take my mobile with me and scan a product and send it away, whereas Spar don’t offer that at the moment unfortunately.
“I was invited to take a tour of their wholesale division in Dundee. We met up with the directors so I’ve got contact numbers for people there too. I went to their big trade show in Aviemore and met other retailers and directors, they were very welcoming and it was really good.
“I’m trying to open some stores abroad as well in Dubai, so I’ve been talking to Spar about that, and I’ve recommended friends to join Spar too.”