AF Blakemore bought Capper & Co last month, creating a Spar wholesaler with a £1.1bn turnover and a 45% share of Spar. In his first interview since the acquisition, Peter Blakemore talks to Elinor Zuke about the takeover, Spar and Big Society

Q: How did the deal come about?
A: I've known Bill Capper for 50 years. We've been talking about it since the middle of last year. It was relatively easy for us as they are Spar members so there will be no great changes there, no rebranding of the stores. We have very similar stock ranges and overall strategies.

Q: What have you been saying to the retailers that were supplied by Capper & Co before the acquisition?
A: We're running roadshows at the moment and meeting independent retailers. We're explaining that it's very much business as usual to start with, and that we're looking to improve service and efficiency.

Q: What efficiencies can you find?
A: We'll be looking at the way Blakemore and Capper do things differently. You'd be surprised how different two outwardly similar businesses can be. Both companies operate well so we will make sure we get the best of both worlds.

Q: How do you plan to integrate the trading teams?
A: The first job will be to agree common stock ranging across both companies. Some products may be dropped as inevitably there will have been different choices made in the past. We have different suppliers for similar products and one of the main functions of the trading team will be looking to resolve those.

Then we will look to harmonise trading policies. We're hoping to get the stock ranges sorted within months. Issues like IT systems will take longer. Another thing we will look at is frequency of delivery.

Q: What will happen to Waynes Stores?
A: Tates and Waynes will be run by a management team running all the company-owned stores.

Q: Will there be more consolidation in the wholesale sector?
A: I'm sure there will be, but there always has been. It's a continuing process, and there's nothing new or different.

Q: How will AF Blakemore's acquisition of Capper change the dynamics within Spar?
A: People can make too much of the Capper deal. We were the biggest before and we're still the biggest. Now there are five rather than six wholesalers all the processes will be 20% more efficient.

Q: What do independents want from their wholesaler or symbol group?
A: They are looking for help on how to compete. They're facing increased competition so they want a symbol group they can work with to help them improve stores.

Q: How so?
A: We help them find new sites, with store design and layout, with stock range, pricing policies and ensuring the profile of the shop meets local competition. We've got a vast amount of experience and resource.

I think they'll be looking for that more and more in the ­future because it's not just about price stores need to be able to compete across a broad area. Spar has a lot to offer independents in that we run our own shops.

Q: How important is it that you have the Tates division?
A: I think it's a great advantage for Spar members that we operate our own stores. The whole business is run to get the best performance we can from not just a supply chain of goods, but also marketing, operating stores, right through to the consumer.

We spend probably the majority of our efforts in Spar in making sure that we offer the right things through to the consumer.

Q: How many stores do you now own, and are you looking to build your estate further?
A: We have 330 now [combining Waynes and Tates]. We intend to grow that but we're not quoting numbers.

Q: What do you look for in a potential store acquisition?
A: We don't have a single model so we are able to trade in quite a diverse variety of locations. We've got small stores, neighbourhood stores, forecourts, we're in airports and railway stations, city centres, and we've recently developed Eurospar stores so we have a very broad spectrum.

Q: Are any of those models going to be especially important in the future?
A: They all play their part. It's fairly obvious but we like stores of 2,000 to 3,000 sq ft with good parking. Those work very well for us.

Q: What will Debbie Robinson bring to Spar when she joins as MD in September?
A: She's a highly skilled individual who's got great experience in the retail sector, particularly in trading, marketing and branding.

Q: What does the future hold for Eurospar after AWG closed two of its three company-owned stores last year?
A: Eurospar is a good format. It's done well in Spar, particularly in Northern Ireland, and we're satisfied with the five we've got here. We've had to learn a lot to get into bigger stores and we think we've got a great offer.

Q: What issues are independent retailers most facing at the moment?
A: There has been an over-expansion of sales space at a time of poor consumer demand. The multiples are growing their space much ­faster than the market, particularly in convenience. The terms and ­conditions that suppliers give to people in the sector also need to be looked at.

Q: Will the convenience market continue to grow?
A: Yes. People like to shop locally to reduce their fuel spend, and lots of people who shop online need to top up. People also save money shopping locally because they buy what they need.

Q: AF Blakemore acquired eight Threshers stores from FQR. Have they traded better as c-stores?
A: Two of those were converted into Spar stores with a full convenience offering and they have been very successful.

The others were mostly off-licences that were adjacent to existing stores, so we've been using it as a method of extending our stores and getting a bigger sales footprint. That's been extremely good for us as well. We didn't go in big one of the issues is always square footage and size.

Q: What do you think of the government's Big Society agenda?
A: We're in tune with what the government is trying to do. We have been working closely with communities for a long time and now, because it's a Tory policy, the area is politicised. Values are not something you put on a plaque on the wall. You've got to do what it says on the plaque and live it.

Q: How do you live those values?
A: We take a long-term view of the business for the benefit of customers, staff and the community. We've made a huge investment in the past five years in this area in terms of the values we stand for. The distribution of Heart of England fine foods is subsidised, and we invested £0.75m in the ­recycling centre we opened in 2008.

Q: How do you make sure everyone works with these values?
A: We publish a booklet called "The way we do business" and run a course for senior managers called Leading the Blakemore Way. So if someone steps out of line they know it and the staff know it.

Q: Why do you do it?
A: It's important in today's world to do stuff that isn't making banks and hedge funds richer. We want to be here for another 94 years.