Gaelle Walker visits Maloney’s Budgens in Ascot – a store with the community at its heart and a never-ending supply of ideas
Vince Maloney and his team were still flushed with the success of claiming the Small Business Of The Year accolade at the prestigious Business in The Community Awards in July when C-Store dropped by his Ascot store for a visit one late summer morning. It was the first time in the 16-year history of the awards that the top prize had been scooped by a grocery retailer.
The store, located in the thick of Ascot’s bustling high street, is one of three owned by former Budgens sales director Vince Maloney and his brother Dennis, and from the instant we passed through its entrance bedecked with floral arrangements and onto the bustling shopfloor it was apparent why the judges were so impressed.
From its bold community notice board, to the cascade of products from local producers, and over to the upbeat staff and smiling customers, the store trumpets one thing loud and clear: community.
Shop profile: Maloneys Budgens, Ascot
Size: 8,500sq ft
Additional services: National Lottery, PayPoint, home delivery
“The Maloney’s Budgens brand has been built on five strategic pillars,” explains Vince, who looks after the finance, staffing, ranging and local marketing side of things. “These include independence, support for small producers of quality food, and partnerships with key community groups all of which are underpinned by one core belief. As a family-owned business whose stores are a vital part of their local community, we believe that we should have a positive impact on those people who depend on us and, in turn, on whom we depend: our customers, other local businesses, our suppliers, staff and ultimately our environment.”
Now, we’d need far more than just three pages to truly do justice to all things that the brothers do to help sustain the local communities that they serve, but here’s just a taster. The pair, who also operate stores in Virginia Water and Shepperton, have worked tirelessly to support their local schools with a host of fundraising events, helping to create vital new facilities and support schemes. Both the Ascot and Shepperton stores provide all the food and drink for their local schools’ breakfast and after-school clubs, as well as running bread and pasta topic weeks to enable children to learn more about the origins of the food that they eat. The brothers have also created an allotment for schoolkids to grow their own produce before selling it in store.
And it’s not just the local kids who benefit. All end-of-day food waste from the Ascot Budgens is donated to the local monkey sanctuary, while over in Shepperton a new scheme to donate bread waste has helped to rescue a struggling swan sanctuary.
However, it is Vince’s passion for local products and the people who make them that forms the strongest beat of the store’s community heart.
More than 400 goods from small local producers are stocked at Ascot and selling strongly, accounting for 4.1% of sales, a fact which Vince says helps to sustain the financial viability of the area, but also gives the store a huge point of difference against the larger supermarkets. Products are showcased on shelf with the help of the Quality From Small Producers brand, and local producers are given further support with regular food fairs held at Vince’s store and community lunches.
But none of these successes could be achieved without the help and support of Vince’s staff, with whom he holds regular focus groups and weekly meetings to keep them abreast of the store’s community involvement.
Team spirit in the store is strong; there’s not a scowl or slouch in sight. In the words of one of his deli assistants: “We’re a real family here; we’re all pulling together to achieve the same goal.”
Staff training is important to Vince, and while all members are trained to work across most aspects of the business, each has their own particular responsibility, a fact which fosters a sense of self-worth and clearly boosts morale.
So, you’d have thought that a store so thoroughly entrenched within its local community would care not a jot about a bit of supermarket competition. Not so. Despite all his hard work, more than a few furrows of concern streaked across Vince’s brow when a Tesco Express opened opposite his own store late last year. But as ever, armed with a pile of well-made plans, he’s tackled the problem head-on, re-merchandising the store and adding new ranges to give the incomer some competition.
“Even though Ascot is an affluent area, the recession and arrival of Tesco in the high street has made people more price-conscious,” says Vince. “As such we’ve brought our promotions out from the middle of the store to the front and the back where they are much more visible.” Last month he launched a “price offensive” on Tesco, slashing the price of 5,000 lines to match the multiple’s known-value items.
Playing to his strengths, Vince has also boosted his fresh produce range where more than 70% of his profits are made. “People love to browse a fresh aisle, particularly when you have lots of interesting and quality local products,” says Vince. “We made even more room for this, adding new ranges of local producer chilled ready meals, an area which is normally dominated by the big brands.”
Fresh meats now make up 69% of turnover, but one of Vince’s biggest growth areas in the past year has been fresh fish, which he takes care to support with eye-catching pos material and tasty recipe suggestions.
“Much of our fresh fish is caught locally by small producers, meaning that it reaches our shelves within 36 hours of being caught, unlike the big supermarkets which take more like seven days,” he adds. “There’s lots of messaging around this. Plus it just tastes better.”
The deli counter boasts a mouth-watering array of meats, cheeses, olives and made-to-order sandwiches, and is also doing well, although Vince is keen to develop this further. “Sales are great until lunchtime, but they die away later in the day,” says Vince. “We need to develop an evening meal solution for Ascot. Curry works well in our Shepperton store, but I think that over here we may go for posh pizzas. They could take the deli to another level.”
Talking to Vince, you can’t fail to notice his foresight and endless plans. “I’m constantly thinking about what’s next,” says Vince. “We’ve got a three-year plan with a very clear picture of what we want to achieve and exactly how we’re going to get there. To do that you’ve got to have a really clear understanding of your profits and losses, but unfortunately not all retailers do.”
At the moment, many of Vince’s plans centre around combating the relentless rise in costs hitting the c-store industry as a whole.
Fortunately, after investing in re-enforced doors and a better alarm system, he’s managed to keep his insurance premium from rising this year, something that he had been worrying about given that each of his stores has been raided in the past 18 months for their precious tobacco stocks.
Excellent working relationships with the police meant the crooks weren’t so lucky. “In the most recent raid a gang member dropped a can he had been drinking when the smokescreen technology went off and startled him. He bolted, leaving the can behind. It was later picked up by police who ran a DNA test on it and were able to identify him,” chuckles Vince.
He takes an equally hard line on shoplifters; pictures of suspected shoplifters are prominently displayed in the staff room for local police and staff members to see and memorise.
However, the negative aspects of retailing in the modern day are quickly pushed to one side, because when it comes to Maloney’s Budgens and its Ascot store in particular, there’s only one picture that springs to mind. That of a successful and true community store, which serves the needs of its customers, staff and community to the best of its ability and beyond. n