Earlier this year as Londis announced the celebration of its 60th birthday, we heard how the symbol brand was doing better than ever, following three record-breaking years of sales growth and recruitment. The success had followed its acquisition by the Booker Group in 2015, along with sister brand Budgens.
At the same time Martin Swadling, Londis brand director, revealed that half of its retail network of more than 1,000 sites were forecourts. A large number of these had come via the number one Top 50 Indie MFG. "We were very lucky back in 2016/17 to win the MFG contract which made a fundamental difference to our performance and our portfolio, and also to the mix of our stores," he said. "Suddenly we became a much bigger forecourt operator. That relationship has moved on and when MFG acquired MRH we were delighted that we won that contract to supply the MRH stores too, which are being transferred over time to Londis and Budgens, in line with the MFG estate."
There has also been a great deal of success with other big forecourt groups Swadling confirmed Londis has tie-ups with around 15 of the Top 50 Indies including businesses such as Applegreen and Roadchef. But he’s still keen to add more. "There’s lots of good development in the forecourt world and yes we’re absolutely still looking for more forecourt business," he confirmed.
"Because we now have some scale, we’re very much focused on having a convenience and a forecourt offer. We’ve tried to shape the offer to suit forecourt retailers, and I think we provide great knowledgeable support from the field sales team.
"We’re pretty confident every time we take a store into Londis from another symbol group that we make them more money. Pretty much without exception we’ve made our customers more profit. Because we’ve got scale, people recognise the brand now in forecourts and they’re comfortable using it."
But it’s not a numbers game, it’s about working with the right retailers, stressed Swadling: "It’s really about attitude and wanting to work in partnership with us," he said. "The success of a store is very much affected by the retailer and their team rather than the bricks and mortar of the building. Invariably a great retailer will make a store great whatever the size and location."
He talks about the importance of retailers understanding the brand’s ’nine box’ approach, developed a couple of years ago in response to the long-term decline of a lot of the traditional categories in the convenience and forecourt market. These ’boxes’ come under the headings of food to go; chilled/prepared; in-store bakery; events; local; trends; healthy and habit forming; core in every store; and technology.
"We use the ’nine boxes’ as a lens to look through when we’re at a store with one of our customers, and recommending that they should be trying to tick elements of all the nine boxes where possible, to help them thrive in the future. The market is changing all the time, so the nine boxes will evolve.
"One of the most important of the categories, particularly in forecourts, is food and drink to go. So that’s anything from a great coffee and pastry solution, up to a full-blown hot-food serve-over or even dessert bars now. We think there’s a big opportunity in forecourt and convenience to exploit those as well.
"Hand in glove with that is bakery which can be anything from using a great local bread roll supplier to a basic baguette, pastry and croissant offer where customers will come and buy little and often." But Swadling believes one of the big differentiators between a good and bad store is how good the chilled offer is. On a tour of three sites around London, Swadling illustrates how adaptable and successful the Londis offer can be. It can cater for stores from 400sq ft to 3,000sq ft.
The store at Londis Beacon in Richmond, part of Top 50 Indie NTS Retail Ltd, is one of the smallest and most impressive: "What it has is a really good, basic chilled offer with something to eat now sandwiches, samosas, yogurt, fruit or a meal for tonight. It’s not a huge range, but a really well-edited range for a 400sq ft store.
"It’s all about getting the right offer for the right size and demographic of store."
Retailer Golden Cross Service Station
Lee Mohamed: pictured above (left) with Londis brand director Martin Swadling, is the former director of the Golden Cross Group which sold 14 sites to MFG nearly two years ago.
Golden Cross: Lee kept the Golden Cross name, plus three sites, including Golden Cross Service Station in Slough, which features a 1,200sq ft Londis store.
Londis: All three sites have gone to Londis. "Firstly, it’s all about the relationship, the interest Londis has shown in us as a partner," explains Lee. "It’s also about coming up with the ideas doing things differently. thinking outside the box. This site was a traditional forecourt with a lot of grocery items. Now we’ve moved on, changed our offer food to go is the way."