Aregional trade association for independent retailers has never existed in Wales, unlike Scotland or Northern Ireland, and the substitute ­ a reliable local grapevine ­ has been drying up. But Ian Hunt, managing director of South Glamorgan based Filco Foods, has fond memories of that not-too-distant era when the grapevine was active, there were some "really good grocers" and, he says, even a "Welsh mafia of Spar retailers". But in the space of 10 years they have all sold up and sailed away on retirement yachts, leaving him to preside over the last of the Welsh independent grocery chains, founded in 1946, alongside what Hunt describes as "very smart single operators". But, with eight stores and a firm foothold in the local community, Filco Foods has no plans to sail into the sunset, despite some operational drawbacks: "We are now really out on a limb in Wales.When we go to trade shows they ask where we have come from, and when we say Wales they bring someone out of the cupboard to talk to us." Hunt represents the second generation of the founding family, he married founder Philip Jones' daughter Elizabeth 25 years ago. The couple's two sons are preparing to join the company after completing business administration degrees. But if there is to be a future, Hunt believes today's focus must be on keeping customers away from the encroaching multiples that have swallowed territory which once belonged to the local shop. Hunt says: "The market is saturated, yet Tesco is trying to get permission for a third supermarket in Llanwit Major where we are based, just to stop Asda coming to town." He avoids direct conflict with the supermarkets by keeping stores small. An optimum size is 6,000sq ft. Knowing your customer is also vital. Shoppers are mainly older locals who can't or don't want to drive to the supermarket for the weekly shop. Younger folk go in for top-up shopping. One clever marketing stroke that's paying dividends for Filco is the Sunday specials' promotion. The campaign began six months ago heavily promoting one line each in meat, alcohol, non-food and ambient every week through full page advertising in local papers. The deep cuts on just four key lines on Sundays have doubled overall turnover for the day. Hunt says: "As we pull the rollershutters up at l0am here at head office they are trying to get in. Sunday is now busier per hour than a whole day during the week!" And customers can also take advantage of Nisa promotions from the Nisa three-weekly promotional cycle. Since Hunt took over Filco Foods' parent company Philip Jones Supermarkets in 1995 all profits have been reinvested in the business ­ particularly into modernising IT systems. Hunt says: "We have gone full pelt into IT over the last few years, and will be developing and extending controls in the future. We are already able to use sales data to identify hotspots and weaknesses, and the technology has given us much quicker reaction times." But expansion will be as much about getting the best out of the existing food stores as opening new ones, and exploiting synergies in the Philip Jones Supermarkets group portfolio. This includes the Llanwit Major head office site that covers 16,000sq ft with a toy shop, post office and business centre. Then there is a property company which is landlord to a Somerfield store, much to Hunt's glee, and a discount off licence chain Rock Bottom. It's a long way from 1946 when founder Philip Jones and his wife opened a small shop in Llanwit Major, down the hill from where the headquarters are today. n {{FEATURES }}