Top brands, bottom prices. It's not the world's slickest marketing slogan, but it pulls in the customers at Swinton-based Quality Save. Partner Paul Rudkin says the family-run business has carved itself a niche in the market by sticking to a simple philosophy.

"Basically, we buy things as cheap as we can, and stick a minimal profit margin on top." You won't find any goats cheese or sundried tomatoes in store, says Rudkin, but if you want basic ambient groceries at rock bottom prices, you've come to the right place.

"We're not competing with the likes of Spar and One Stop.We're in a totally different market. We do the basics and a lot of clearance lines."

The chain aims to sell these clearance lines well before their sell-by date.
Quality Save started life about 30 years ago as an indoor market stall in Walkden, Manchester, manned by Paul's father, Robert. This evolved into a small single unit store in Farnworth using the family garage as a warehouse until Robert found a small depot in Whaelley Range.

The business grew store by store in the Manchester, Yorkshire and Cheshire areas until the mid-1990s, when Rudkin senior struck a deal with Prescott-based Nisa member TJ Morris, which trades as Home Bargains - a discount format similar to Quality Save. Under the deal, buying and distribution was transferred to TJ Morris, which now supplies all 19 Quality Save stores from its warehouse in Merseyside. Although the deal requires Quality Save to source goods exclusively through TJ Morris, the combined volumes of Home Bargains and Quality Save - about 80 stores - means they both get access to better deals from suppliers, says Rudkin. "We've only added about four or five new stores since the tie-up with Tom Morris, but turnover has doubled." This year, sales are expected to top £26m, up from last year's £24.5m.

Sales-based ordering ready to roll

The focus this year and next is completing the rollout of a sales-based ordering system, refurbishing the estate, and relocating stores into larger premises, says Rudkin, who took over the day-to-day running of the business shortly after the deal with TJ Morris.

"Up to a couple of years ago, our biggest store was about 2,000 sq ft," he says. "Now we are trading out of stores of 10,000 sq ft."
As well as the standard range of snacks, petfood, toiletries, perfume and toys, the larger stores also stock TVs and videos. There is no fresh, frozen or chilled food - although these are areas the company may look at in the future, says Rudkin. Booze is a big seller though, and all refurbished stores are given a licensed section as a matter of course.

Although the focus remains a relatively limited offer with great prices, the slogan, The Discount Stores, has been axed from the fascia as the estate has been refurbished. Some stores have had a lick of paint, while others have been completely gutted, and given new wooden flooring, ceilings, and fixtures and fittings, says Rudkin. "We've had to upgrade the stores because people want to shop in a better environment."

The format works best in a parade of shops where passers-by drop in for the bargains rather than making it a destination site for the weekly shop.
The biggest challenge facing the business is attracting and retaining good staff, says Rudkin, who is introducing different wage structures to reward staff who have been in the business more than 18 months. "The top priority is getting every single member of staff trained up to a good standard."

Competition has grown tougher over the past couple of years, but there are plenty of opportunities for a format like Quality Save to grow, insists Rudkin.
Indeed, the business has grown successfully without moving into any of the areas apparently essential for the survival of the independent retailer: a strong fresh and chilled offer and a full range of services, such as the lottery and ATMs.

Quality Save will grow by sticking to what it does best, says Rudkin: No frills, top brands and rock bottomprices.