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Local produce is an untapped opportunity for retailers, according to Josh James.

Josh appeared at the most recent Convenience Strategy Forum, organised by Lumina Intelligence.

Josh James speaks with Ed Sibley at the Convenience Strategy Forum

Josh James speaks with Ed Sibley at the Convenience Strategy Forum

Speaking with Lumina Intelligence commercial director Ed Sibley, he discussed the partnership with Morrisons for his Fresh & Proper store in Fordham, Cambridgeshire, using local suppliers and what role technology can play in convenience.

Son of Jonathan James of James Graven & Sons, Josh is no stranger to retail but really wanted to make his mark on the sector from the very beginning.

With this being his first store, Josh was keen to get the right supply partner, and with Morrisons growing its presence in the convenience channel, the Together With model felt like a (fresh &) proper fit. “It’s a supply agreement rather than the franchise agreement,” he explained. “So, we’ve got a lot more flexibility, which is fantastic from our point of view. We can have as much local as we want in there as well as decide on promotions, pricing and have the opportunity to go down to supermarket pricing as well.”

He says that local produce is a key part of the store’s success. “The area is quite a big farming area, so the opportunity for local fresh produce and local suppliers is massive.

“We haven’t really tested the limits with local yet. What we wanted with the brand is not to force local and to work with them [suppliers] so they don’t feel that they’re losing out. We’re currently building up almost a launch with hopefully around 40 to 50 suppliers, just to kind of hit it.”

That local offering is balanced out with a strong own label range, which is where Morrisons comes into play. “There are people coming in expecting Morrisons, seeing the Morrisons logo and getting Morrisons pricing. But with the fresh aspect, suppliers, particularly local ones, are realising that this is a bit different. We’re a local farming family and they’re willing to work with us and then with the Together With model as well, brands like Cook are willing to work with us, whereas they wouldn’t normally want to work with the Big Five.”

The partnership enabled Josh to introduce supermarket-style pricing which has helped create a point of difference to his competition, even to the point that he could offer more everyday low pricing rather than relying on promotions.

“Our chilled does really well for us because of supermarket pricing, so there’s a lot of potential in that category,” he says. “We removed a couple of promotional end bays as soon as we launched. We started with four and we went down to two straight away. We found that because of our basket spend we had the potential to put in more range. It wasn’t a point that was being picked up to us that our prices were too expensive that we really needed to push the promotions.

“The Morrisons prices were strong enough that up against Co-op, besides their member pricing, that were in line and shoppers were happy. We’re up against a local Co-op but people are seeing us as a supermarket and we’re getting a £12-£14 basket average basket spend which is fantastic.”

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The store’s branding has been well-received by customers but Josh isn’t willing to take credit for that. “We approached Davinder Jheeta from Someone Creative quite early on, and he had really great ideas. We pushed them onto Morrisons and they loved the ideas so we ran with it.”

The modern look fits in well with the store’s demographic. “The actual store is on 100-site development of new build housing so it’s a lot of young families, with a 100 more homes on the way. We put the small trolleys for kids, things like that to help attract them.”

He notices how this age profile has impacted the sales mix. “Tobacco and vaping makes up 10% of overall sales, and 6% of that is vape. Having a younger demographic is probably the biggest driver of that.”

As well as the younger customer base, he also benefits from international products. “American [candy] is doing quite well for us. We’ve got half a bay of that in right now. We’ve got American military bases in the area, so it really works as a driver to bring those customers in.”

Josh added that there’s also an opportunity to introduce new pricing mechanics, particularly thanks to the investment he’s made in technology. “We’re looking at dynamic pricing, particularly around sports fixtures, happy hours, things like that. There’s a lot of potential there. We use Electronic Shelf Edge Labels so it’s a lot easier. I can change 150 prices in about six seconds when that would have taken me an hour before.”

This investment in technology has extended to crime prevention, as even his store is not immune to the rise in shoplifting. “Theft has been the shocking bit. It came down to me and Dad being bouncers one night in the store and we stopped about £300 worth of stuff going out the door just on that four- hour shift. We put Facewatch in straight-away and we’ve got 46 cameras in the store.”

Although only open six months, Josh shares his father’s ambition and is always looking to grow his empire. He believes the model could work very in similar locations.

“We’re already looking at a second or third site but where they come to life, that’s a different story. We see so many villages in the area that could do with something like this. I think it’s got legs especially in the local area, in Cambridgeshire, because the community is really accepting of it.”

The Lumina Intelligence Convenience Strategy Forum is an all-inclusive convenience retail insight solution, delivered in the form of comprehensive reports, briefings and industry-leading events. You can find out more here.