When John and Vera Botterill opened a 500sq ft newsagent in Blantyre, Lanarkshire, in 1956, little did they know that 50 years later their company would have flourished into a 44-strong network of Spar-branded c-stores, and be one of Scotland's biggest independent retailers.
Today, Botterills Convenience Stores (originally Botterills of Blantyre) is run by Lizette Craig - John and Vera's granddaughter - and employs some 900 people. Lizette joined the company in 1998 and took over from her father Jim, becoming managing director in 2004.
Throughout its six decades of trading, Botterills has experienced its fair share of ups and downs. Its first expansion happened in 1962, when it opened a second shop - a new-build store with an off licence in Farm Road, Blantyre - and John's brother Billy joined the business. The 1960s also saw the company become involved with groups such as Vivo, VG, Mace and Centra, and finally with Spar in 1966, making it one of the original Spar members in Scotland.
When retail price maintenance was abolished in 1967, Botterills moved to the forefront of cut-price alcohol sales, but four years later it was dealt a major blow when it was revealed that the company was
trading at a loss. Theft by staff members was the main cause, and Jim quickly introduced financial stock controls, which soon became the platform for future growth.
The introduction of VAT further improved accounting procedures, but by the mid 70s inflation was running at more than 20% and mortgage rates hit 17%. This time, the government came to the rescue with the introduction of tax relief on stock increases. Botterills took advantage by buying a store before the end of each financial year so its stocks were inflated and it paid little tax, a saving which funded the new stores.
In 1978 Botterills' two storage shops and office were compulsorily purchased by Hamilton Council as part of the regeneration of Blantyre Main Street. With these funds, Botterills opened a custom-built warehouse and offices, which remained its head office for the following 12 years.
In 1980, the sad and sudden death of Billy was a major loss to the business and sparked a restructure, reveals Lizette: "At that time my grandparents took the decision not to work and Dad took control and restructured the business into more of a company.
"He then brought in Malcolm Watson as a partner. With Malcolm and his wife Susan on board,
Mum and Dad started to develop the company." And so it was in 1983 that Botterills become a true c-store business when it opened its first Eight Till Late store - its ninth outlet.
The next big restructure was in 1995 when Botterills went from a partnership to a limited company. "At that point we appointed three other directors," says Lizette. "This was a key time when we went from a family-run operation to a more professional organisation. The partners did everything themselves, but when we became a company, they were able to take a step back and allow the directors to take some of the responsibility."

Too many chiefs?



Lizette adds: "Dad has been fortunate in that he had three brothers but none of them wanted to be actively involved in the business, so there was no in-house family bickering. My brother didn't show any interest in the business either so my succession has been quite clean-cut and easy. All this has allowed my Dad to appoint people who were right for the business, which has brought experience to the boardroom table from outside the family."
The year 2000 - two years after Lizette joined the company - brought another big round of changes. "Malcolm, Susan and Mum all retired, and two other directors left as well, so we lost five directors at once," explains Lizette. "It suited us because I had come into the company and wanted to make some changes."
When Lizette joined, the company wasn't running as professionally as she would have liked. "There was no great reporting structure and it wasn't as people-focused as it could be. That's when I embarked on Investors in People, which gave us a good grounding to rewind and see how people felt about the company and how they wanted to go forward. It was a disruptive time but it gave us the opportunity to allay employees' fears about senior management.
"We streamlined the board to four directors - rather than the seven or eight previously - and brought in people underneath them who've since blossomed in their new roles. If I look back, we were pretty top heavy - a lot of chiefs and not enough Indians - so good people weren't getting recognised."
Four years later, Jim decided to go part-time and Lizette took the reins. "This was a smooth and seamless transition because all the changes I wanted to make had happened a few years before. The last 12 to 18 months has gone pretty well and I owe a lot of thanks to the staff for accepting me so readily. Dad was such a prominent figure in the industry and people have been great in accepting that if Jim is happy for me to make decisions, then they're happy too. I was apprehensive when I came to work for the company but it was great to know I had a team that respected me and didn't just think I was here because my name is Botterill."
Jim is still company chairman and continues to work three days a week. "Going part time has given him a new lease of life and now he really gets his teeth into projects. He's enjoying contributing to the company and wider industry because he's so passionate about the issues affecting our trade. He's now able to give something back to an industry that's given him such a successful career."
Four years ago, Lizette's husband Alan joined the business as finance director. "Having Alan here has been a great help to me because the trust is there," she says. "We laugh about the fact that I trust him with millions of pounds in the business, but I won't let him pay the bills at home. It's another family unit and that's very normal to me because that's what I grew up with. We're working long hours but we're both working for the same goal and same benefits.
"We're such a friendly company and I'm very proud of the length of time people stay with us. Mum and Dad always treated people as part of the family, and although we have reporting structures, there's not a phone call that I wouldn't take, no matter what time of day or night. I think we're also unique in that we've got four husband and wife teams in senior management, so they're all going for the same goals and getting the same benefits as well. We're like a big family. We're fortunate that people are the best part of the business, and we've been able to retain that even as the company grows."

Ripe for expansion



And that growth is showing no signs of slowing down. Botterills has just opened its 44th store - a former Keystore shop in Barhead - with a 45th store due to open in June. But Lizette is choosy about the stores they bring into the portfolio. "We could have 50 stores tomorrow but they've got to be the right stores and they've got to fit into our portfolio. We never take on stores to the detriment of the business. We've got to have everything in place that allows us to open new stores seamlessly. We've just expanded our warehouse and added another 7,000sq ft for distribution so that'll keep us going to 60 stores."
Botterills is also continuing its programme of revamping older stores. "It's an ongoing, rolling programme of investment - like painting the Forth Bridge. We've got to the point where our stores are the one-stop shops for the community, so we're just tweaking things to be aesthetically different, not because there's anything left to put in. I don't foresee a dramatic change in c-stores in the future."
Although the multiples have come into the sector, Lizette isn't overly concerned. "They're not doing anything different to us, it's just on a larger scale, but their stores are blander, so I don't think they're anything to worry about. We're carrying on with a winning formula and we're much closer to our
customers so we know what their comments are when we open a new store and we can react quickly. We can react to individual circumstances - a multiple can't do that."
Lizette says that while legislation has put a lot of pressure on the business, Botterills always tries to be proactive. Its test purchasing scheme, which has been running for two years, is testament to this.
"We started doing test purchasing because four years ago we lost a licence and had to close the store. That brought home how vulnerable each store is and we were very upset about it; it caused great embarrassment and we thought our reputation had been ruined. It was a real wake-up call.
"We now test purchase every Friday and Saturday night for our own peace of mind," adds Lizette. "When we first started doing it, we were surprised at how lax things were. Employees who pass the test receive a £5 Botterills voucher. If they fail, the store is excluded from the quarterly store competition and extra training is given. I want age verification to become second nature to staff.
"Now, the word on the street among under-18s is that they'll never get served in a Spar and that's what we want. The problem is that older kids buy for younger ones, so the maximum number of products we sell in one transaction is three bottles. There are other tell-tale signs as well, such as paying with only coins. However, while we're proactive in this area, the industry as a whole isn't doing enough."
With a turnover of £60m, Botterills is light years away from its humble beginnings, and Lizette is clearly proud of what they've achieved. "We're 50 and not out," she says. "In Scotland, anyone who was going to go went about two years ago, but I still have a major passion for the job. I really want to be here."

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