Flying the flag for Independents
JC Stewarts of Magherafelt
UG: How have you found trade throughout 2012?
JCS: 2012 was not a year to be complacent as a retailer! That said; trade in 2012 has really been a continuation of trends that have developed during the recession. Customers are seeking out good value and need to know that they are getting a good deal. For some types of products customers will only buy the item that is on promotion. But for other items they are interested in product quality and provenance. We can also see more ‘top up’ shopping and basket shopping as customers move away from the model of one big weekly shop. Magherafelt has seen the arrival of Tesco in 2012, a challenge that JC Stewart as a business is well aware of. But, for us, 2012 has been a year where we have been focused on food, first and foremost.
UG: As an independent retailer how difficult is it to stay competitive in these challenging economic times?
JCS: Every business has to work hard at staying competitive – JC Stewart is no exception. And the textbooks are right here – you can compete in the marketplace by finding your niche and by being different to mainstream competitors. With regard to price, we have stuck to our trading principles – offering competitive prices and straightforward discounts. We try to avoid the ‘two for the price of one/BOGOF deals’ that really force customers into bulk buying.
UG: JC Stewart has a reputation for being tremendously well respected for their local food knowledge. Is this something you feel which helps the store continue to prosper and sets it apart from its competitors?
JCS: Part of the value of trading since 1894 is that JC Stewart is genuinely local. We are proudly part and parcel of the Magherafelt landscape and community. That’s not marketing-speak, it’s just a statement of fact about who we are. And local food matters to us. Our customers expect us to stock locally produced products. And this year, when we started producing our own ready meals, customers rightly expected a product that is local and wholesome. That means we make as much as we can from scratch using natural ingredients. That’s not always the easiest way to make things but it’s what customers have come to expect from us and it’s what we do naturally. It makes for interesting aromas in the kitchen, especially when they are grinding the spices for Tikka Masala or making red Thai sauce! So local food and natural ingredients are important, even if we our tastes are a bit more international.
UG: How important do you feel it is for people to continue to support independent retailers such as yourselves?
JCS: We believe in putting our money where our house is! Supporting independent retailers is important for many reasons. It helps secure local employment, as money spent in local shops stays in the local community in a way that does not happen with the multiples. And supporting independent shops also helps provide choice. If you have a number of independents sourcing and selling products you end up with more choice for customers. Where the multiples are the majority, there is actually less choice and almost identical pricing. Just look at some towns in England and Ireland that are swamped by multiple stores – the effect is disastrous for local choice.
UG: How do you see the industry panning out over the coming 12 months?
JCS: Hopefully the appetite to open out of town retail parks will slow down in favour of developing town centres with vibrant character and atmosphere before it’s too late. In our community people will still be looking for a bargain as their disposable income comes under pressure. Retailers need to deliver real value as well as trying to innovate.
The future, as always, is both exciting and scary. JC Stewart will continue to evolve. We will follow our hearts and bring passion to what we do in the world of grocery and food.