CJ Lang

New chief executive Colin McLean said the business was having to go ‘back to basics’ in order to drive growth

Scottish Spar wholesaler and retailer CJ Lang is testing 24-hour delivery lead times as part of new chief executive Colin McLean’s overhaul of the business.

It is also sharpening its pricing and working on other initiatives to drive “profitable growth”.

McLean admitted that the business was having to go back to basics and he was doing a lot of work on “recognising who the customer is and what we need to do to get the right product, the right availability and the right pricing in front of our customer”.

He spoke to The Grocer after the announcement that pre-tax profits were down from £925k to £490k (after stock provision) on turnover down 1.3% to £183.1m, which he said was “mostly in line with expectations during a tough period”. Margins increased from 23.3% to 23.9%.

McLean, who joined CJ Lang seven months ago from Scotmid Co-operative, said ordering on Thursday for Monday was “far too long”.

Read more: CJ Lang to sell off eight company-owned Spar stores

It was trialling 24-hour lead times in “a number” of stores where they could “get much closer to the point of sale and get more accurate orders, resulting in improving sales and availability”.

This was under test across the board - ambient, frozen and chilled.

“We’ve a fantastic proposition in Dundee with our distribution centre. I think we need to recognise that our proposition needs to be more flexible. We recognise we need to change, we’ve got to get a customer-facing proposition that is more modern and relevant, and 24-hour lead times is one of those.”

McLean said both company-owned store sales and independent store sales were back in growth.

“We celebrated record like-for-like sales last week as we have done for the past five weeks.

CJ Lang has 113 company-owned stores and 180 independents. “I want profitable customers. It’s not a numbers game. It’s about profitable accounts and that is the big difference… and getting the message out there that CJ Lang has a retail-led proposition.”

The business has been looking at the best examples of Spar in Belfast and Dublin, as well as other places in Europe and internationally, to look at “how we take the best of Spar and launch some of these opportunities for both company-owned stores and independents”.