While stylish branding and fascias can attract a customer to a store in the first place, it’s actually what goes on behind the scenes that can dictate whether that customer comes back. Pricing, promotions, efficiency of supply and delivery are all key elements that will keep a store performing at its peak. Which is why Phil Smith has been heavily occupied since taking up his role as managing director of Musgrave Retail Partners GB 18 months ago.
"We have been getting into increasingly solid shape," he explains. "We have pulled together a strong team, from the board down, and throughout the organisation. We’ve also been putting into place a better infrastructure in order to be able to partner with independent retailers. It has been very much Musgrave’s intention to make transformation investments in order to pull the Londis and Budgens businesses together (Londis was acquired in 2004).
"So my challenge has been about getting the team into place to do it, make sure our efforts are co-ordinated, and that we do the right things in the right order. Sometimes programmes don’t always work - whether it’s in the warehouse or new financial systems - so a lot of it has been about doing everything effectively."
Smith says the company’s goal is to be the partner of choice for independent retailers and particularly those who see themselves as retail entrepreneurs.
"We want to generate sustainable, profitable growth, not just for ourselves, but for our retail partners as well.
"The aim is to become the leading player in the convenience sector in terms of sales, over the next five years. Currently our market share is about five per cent of the convenience business."
In preparation for this Smith says there has been a major transformation of the company’s supply chain and purchasing systems; and the introduction of dynamic scheduling that allows the company to route its lorries dependent on the day’s orders rather than a fixed routing basis.
"This has enabled us to take a million miles out of the system, which is good for the environment and good for business," he says. "At the same time we have made major changes to the infrastructure of our warehousing - there has been a complete overhaul at Wellingborough, the Budgens depot, as well as the operation of that having been taken inhouse."
Other work has included investment to allow the company to run fresh on a flow-through basis in the Londis depots, which will give Londis retailers fresh products, better shelf life and margins, and better quality.
"We really need to make sure we have a confident fresh offer in the convenience sector," stresses Smith.
"We are putting the health of our retailers right at the front of our investment plans. We are working to give them support on their profitability and cashflow; and suppoorting and growing our brands so they have a strong retail offer. We’re making sure we’re as efficient as we can be."
There have also been improvements to promotions and payment terms, according to Smith, while own-label ranges are being strengthened with an ongoing stream of new launches.
While the Londis brand has long had a relatively strong presence on forecourts, now the Budgens brand looks set for a higher profile with nine or 10 openings planned for the coming year.
"We have some excellent forecourt operators - such as Susie Hawkins, Philip and Lesley Tout, and Guy Warner," says Smith.
"Budgens is a really great brand. We can give retailers a lot of guidance, particularly in putting together the retail offer, the launching of the site and ongoing support."