BWG Foods held its first conference for Londis retailers at the end of September. Attended by over 140 retailers from across the country, BWG took the opportunity to outline its plans for the brand. Checkout spoke to Willie O’Byrne, managing director of BWG Foods, about the company’s plans for the business and the brand.
Londis has now been integrated into BWG Foods. What has this meant for Londis retailers in terms of day-to-day operations?
Our primary focus over the last few months has been to deliver on our promise to Londis retailers that we would implement a seamless integration of the Londis business into BWG.
As a wholesaler, we know the value of continuity for independent retailers. We were committed to ensuring that Londis retailers continued to receive high levels of service throughout the transition, and that, from an account-management perspective, they dealt with the same people they were accustomed to.
Having completed the integration of Londis staff into BWG head office, we are currently consolidating our distribution service for Londis retailers to achieve even greater efficiencies in terms of supply chain and deliveries.
What are your future plans for the Londis brand?
First of all, let me reiterate our intention to retain, develop and grow the Londis brand. We took the opportunity at our recent Londis retailer conference in Carton House to begin delivering on our second commitment: to create added value for our Londis retailers and the Londis brand from BWG’s ownership. We focused on retail innovation, product offering, and store design and layout.
Significantly, we also announced our decision to put in place a programme of co-investment with Londis retailers to upgrade and modernise stores, giving retailers access to funds that may not have been readily available in recent years.
What new offerings will you be rolling out for Londis retailers?
Following significant planning and development work over the summer months, we were delighted to be in a position to launch several new and exclusive food and drink offerings at the conference, which we believe will ensure differentiation from competitors and drive profitability for Londis.
Chief among these is a focus on foodservice innovation, with the introduction of Bia Blás, a new and exclusive deli offering, as well as a new bakery concept and three new coffee offerings.
We also announced plans to implement a new category management system to improve effectiveness of product layout and drive sales, and an expansion of the brand’s private-label offering, with a focus on fresh and chilled, giving Londis retailers access to BWG’s exclusive sub-brands, such as Glenmór meats, Fresh Choice produce, and our extensive agency wine portfolio.
What has been the reaction of Londis retailers to date?
First off, we were delighted with the reaction from Londis retailers to our conference message. As business people in their own right, it was no surprise to us that Londis retailers were adopting a wait-and-see approach, ensuring we made good on our commitment to grow and develop the brand.
Initial reaction has been extremely positive, and we now have many retailers looking to develop their stores and incorporate the new offerings. We anticipate that Londis shoppers will begin to see changes within a matter of weeks.
You also announced Conor Hayes as the new sales director for the brand. What role will Conor play in the coming months?
Conor takes up the leadership position for the Londis brand and business within BWG, and will play a pivotal role in growing the brand. I am delighted to have him on board, and the reaction to his appointment from both retailers and the wider industry has been very positive.
It’s important to emphasise, however, that this is very much a team effort. All of us in BWG, right up to Group CEO Leo Crawford, have made commitments in terms of focus and determination to deliver on the real potential for Londis in the Irish retail landscape.
How will you ensure that the Londis brand retains its unique identity and competitive positioning?
We view Londis as having a very distinct personality and set of brand values. In fact, this unique DNA is one of the key factors that attracted us to the brand in the first place, brought to life in the ‘Local Like You’ tagline.
We want to make sure we build on this foundation, celebrating and accentuating the unique attributes of the Londis brand.
We have a strong track record in BWG of managing multiple retail brands, and this is reflected in the success of our 1,000+ Spar, Eurospar, Mace and XL stores in partnership with independent retailers. While all these stores benefit from the size and scale of our central resources, we promote and celebrate each brand’s unique identity.
Key to this will be maintaining a dedicated, separate account-management function and marketing resource for Londis, something we’ve found creates healthy internal competition between our brands – a key ingredient of the success of BWG.
In most integrations, there is a duplication of resources. How did you address this situation in relation to Londis?
Given the nature of our respective businesses, it was inevitable that there was going to be a degree of overlap across support and logistics functions, and from our initial discussions, it was clear that Londis employees wanted clarity around their future roles as soon as possible. That became our priority, and we immediately implemented an open and transparent consultation process with impacted employees.
At the outset, we confirmed that we would apply Londis custom and practice in relation to company redundancies that would result from the review, and we honoured that commitment in full. One of the other principles of our approach was that we wanted every employee to hear from us how they would be personally impacted. That meant that we had to wait a number of weeks before confirming our plans publicly. We were not prepared to compromise on this point.
BWG’s interest in Londis goes back many years. Why do you think you were successful in acquiring the business this time round?
That’s right. In fact, our interest in Londis dates back to the late 1990s. We felt then, as we do now, that Londis would make a great fit for BWG, and we’re delighted that our persistence has finally paid off.
Over the years, the retail environment in Ireland has been transformed, and to compete today, you need significant financial resources, access to international best practice in retailing, and the ability to continually evolve your offering to meet the ever-changing demands of consumers. BWG was in a position to deliver this for the Londis brand and Londis retailers, many of whom were also shareholders.
Our approach was successful this time because the rationale was compelling. We believe strongly that our experience and expertise will add real value to both Londis retailers and their customers, and we look forward to helping the brand grow and prosper, and to reach its full potential in the Irish retail landscape.
BWG has emerged from the recession a bigger and stronger business. On the back of the Londis acquisition, what’s BWG’s future ambition?
We believe that the future for convenience is bright, and that consumer trends and purchasing habits point to continued growth in the sector.
With the addition of Londis, BWG is now the largest convenience-store operator in the country, with a portfolio of industry-leading brands that have the flexibility to respond to the various and specific needs of independent retailers right across the country. Our focused multi-brand strategy will allow us to deliver even better choice, value and service offerings to our retail partners and their customers. That’s our ultimate goal.