The more things change, the more they stay the same for The Grocer Top 50’s Roys of Wroxham,which began life as Roys in 1895. Its retail estate remains static at eight variety stores, which it has run for several years across Norfolk, from North Walsham to Sudbury, its southernmost outlet.
There are five major food stores but the main retail complex in Wroxham, which includes a florist, department store and chemist, accounts for half of the company’s £60m sales, sprawling across the Norfolk Broads village and providing parking for 1,000 cars. The company has also helped develop the local Riverside Park, part of the land it bought for retail development, making it integral to the local community.
Expansion is being thwarted for the moment by a lack of sites and by Tesco’s expansion, according to MD Brian Godfrey, who says the multiple’s shadow is lengthening over the county. “That’s all the competition,” he says, sweeping his hand over a map peppered with coloured dots. “The blue ones are Tesco stores. We’re getting hemmed in. Just 20 years ago, there were a handful.”
Since the nearest Tesco store opened seven miles north east of Wroxham in Stalham three years ago, it has taken 10% of the Wroxham site’s business, says Godfrey.
But now Tesco is opening a 90,000 sq ft Extra store and petrol forecourt just outside the village, the pressure’s really on.
The current climate means Roys has to fight even harder to retain a loyal customer base. “We’re still a bit of a tourist attraction,” says Godfrey. “Every week we get a coach party from Hunstanton visiting us, for example. They say they love the relaxed shopping atmosphere we provide.”
He admits groups like this mainly consist of older shoppers, whereas younger consumers tend to be more promiscuous in their shopping habits. But he insists Roys can effectively compete with the major multiples. For him, encouraging customer loyalty is more about improving and shouting louder about the core retail offer, and less about mindless expansion.
Part of that strategy includes boosting its reputation for local sourcing. Recent promotions at Wroxham have included Norfolk beef and fresh fish from nearby Cromer. And the flagship Wroxham store has increased the space it devotes to fresh food.
On the operations side, the retailer is just completing a three-year rollout of a £500,000 Chip & PIN-friendly EpoS system. Chip & PIN is scheduled to hit stores across the coming year. It has also consolidated distribution, passing its 20,000 sq ft Norwich depot back to the private landlord it leased it from in 2004 and keeping just one warehouse under lease in Pinetrees, north of Norwich. Nisa handles the bulk of its food distribution, with direct deliveries of ambient goods to come through the buying group’s Scunthorpe distribution centre, opening soon.
Without Nisa, Roys’ position would be a lot worse, says Godfrey. The organisation’s promotional cycle, renewed every three weeks, enables it to offer customers deals on 170,000 products. “Judging by the past few The Grocer 33 pricing surveys, our prices on comparable products come in well below those of Waitrose,” says Godfrey.
He adds that Nisa has also helped Roys apply comprehensive category reviews in recent years, maximising sales space by stripping out range duplication. Finance director Ed Roy has overseen changes in logistics and merchandise director Paul Roy has supervised ranging. Both joined the business in 2002. “Four years ago we were vastly overstocked. Ed and Paul have brought our systems into the 21st century,” says Godfrey. The brothers have maintained the family feel since the death of chairman Peter Roy, their father and son of co-founder Alfred, early last year.
If the company keeps improving its offering with Nisa’s support, it can resist the multiples and retain its independence as a family business for years to come, says Godfrey.