Four years ago I took one of the biggest decisions of my life to leave Musgrave after 16 years' service with all the trimmings and also what I believe to be the best team of people I have ever had the pleasure to manage (fresh food advisors). But one Christmas Eve four years ago, Jay Gohil, managing director of JSK Services, finally (after many attempts) convinced me to join the firm. This was not just about changing a job, it was more than that because, when you work for a small independent operation in my role, there is no big structure of departments to support your every move.
When I joined, JSK Services was made up of two Esso forecourts with Budgens and Londis; the Budgens also had a Subway. The team totalled 32 employees some of whom had 15 years' service.
That meant that when I start my day there were three very different businesses awaiting my attention all with their specific needs.
Like all of us with retail in our blood, I am up at the crack of dawn. A swift tea and toast with the family if time allows, then a flick through the smartphone for the day's plan and let's be honest, plans are great but in multi-site retail plans are very much liquid 'things to do' lists.
My working day is full of the usual tasks you would expect: store visits to ensure operationally we are where we need to be; supplier meetings to build on what we have and to seek out new opportunities; and monthly account meetings which will always confirm whether what we are doing is right or wrong.
But without any question, there are two parts of my role that require 80% of my time and attention. These are the people that work with us and the people that shop with us. So I spend a huge amount of time listening to both (including the good, the bad and the ugly), because without them there would be no business.
Every day in whatever store I'm in, I will make a point of talking to the team. It's the simplest of tasks but the most rewarding, having an open communication line helps build strong working relationships that support moving the business forward in unison.
Our customers require the same attention but on many more levels. The challenge here is not just communicating with those who shop with us, but those who don't know us or haven't heard about us.
The key to this is working with local groups, community projects, schools and all the local associations. These are the meetings that will keep me out till 10pm talking about anything from Christmas lights for a high street to proposed new developments with local communities.
My presence has allowed Jay Gohil the time and focus to bring new projects to JSK but in these very challenging times, it has been important not to rush into anything.
In fact over the past four years, the business has turned down more opportunities than we have launched, but we are growing and we now have six sites.
We also moved all our retail to the Spar brand. This was a big decision after being with Musgrave for the past six years and this has proved, so far, to be a positive move.
The AF Blakemore team has strong values which make for an excellent working relationship. We also have additional projects in the pipeline but only the right ones will make it into the group.
So how do I end my day? Well, there's never a set time and I always review the day's liquid task sheet and shuffle the rest of the week's plan. I have a strong management team and excellent store teams, who work very hard.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank them for their dedication then move onto my next task planning this year's company Christmas Party.
Name: Mark Barnard
Company: JSK Services, independent multi-site retailer (Esso, Spar and Subway)
Job title: Operations manager
Career history: Worked at Safeway, Normans, Iceland, 7Eleven and Musgrave UK
Greatest achievements: 26 years of being with my wife Lyn (who is also my HR manager); my son Declan; and my Grocer Gold award
Tips for business success: Listen and when you think you have finished listening, listen some more
Most likely to say: I only have two things to do in my job manage and deliver the needs and expectations of customers and employees
Least likely to say: Tell everyone what they want to hear, it will make life easier Other interests: Varied interests, but my favourite pastime is quality time with Lyn and Declan