As part of my role as Landmark chairman, I had the privilege a few weeks ago of visiting the new James Hall site in Preston. James Hall is well known as the Spar distributor for the North of England and has always operated a superbly run family business. Perhaps less well known to those readers younger than me is that in the 1980s,they also ran four cash & carry depots and were important members of Landmark Wholesale.

It considered its strategy carefully and in 1986 sold its C&Cs to concentrate on its core Spar business in Preston. While the premises were old and landlocked, it always used innovative management techniques to engage staff and generate efficient operations.

The Hall family possess the ability to combine carefully considered incremental progress with the ability to take bold and astonishing long-term decisions. This is borne out by the superb new site adjacent to the M6.

The move was carefully planned over nearly 10 years with a greenfield site acquired in 2005, building work starting in 2009 and the business moving in 2011. The “retiring” trading director, Dave Allen, had the full-time task of overseeing and planning all works in exhaustive detail, not least because the family commitment was to build a sustainable development that was sympathetic to both the site and environmental considerations.

The outcome is an outstanding achievement. The warehouse has 350,000 sq ft of space across three temperature regimes of ambient fresh and frozen. The company is so forward-thinking that it has already put footings in for a future doubling in size.

Morrisons is often praised for its vision of vertical integration of fresh food supply. This is something Halls has done for many years with state-of-the-art production and packing facilities for bacon, cooked meats and cheese on site. Off site for now is a full sandwich facility along with a recently acquired local craft bakery supplying cakes, bread and savouries. All fruit & veg is bought direct from markets here and overseas and re-packed to be shelf-ready on site.

Efficiency of warehouse operations has always been a priority and all picking is voice-activated and paperless.

Staff facilities are second to none with a full medical suite and a full-time doctor on site. The site also hosts backup systems for both this business and all its Spar customers with full IT and personnel functionality on site. The attention to detail is evident in the three separate mirror image fully functioning computer server rooms on and off site.

The whole operation is a real demonstration of professionalism and commitment in the independent sector.