These days, Scottish independent convenience store chains are as rare as haggis running around the Highlands. But the few that do remain in existence are determined to cling to their independence. David Sands is one such chain. It has been going for 190 years (its 200th anniversary is in 2015) and David Sands, managing director, says the brand new £1.5m warehouse and head office development should be a clear signal to all that the business will stay in independent hands.
“Our new site is vital for our continued growth,” says Sands. “We are very much an independent business and do things our own way. We have to give our stores daily deliveries as we have designed them for maximum selling space. There is little storage so they need daily deliveries.
“We want to expand our business and our old site was not equipped to cope with that. The new warehouse is brilliant for logistics as we are right next to the M90 - a 45-minute circumference around us covers a large part of central Scotland and that’s where the population is.”
In the past month, two new stores have been added to the chain to bring the numbers up to 20 and a turnover of £20m. Most of the stores are in Kinross and Fife, to the east of the country, but Sands says he is quite willing to take business out west to the outskirts of Glasgow.
The Burntisland store that opened last month in Fife was a new build.
“That’s given us a taste for new builds,” says Sands. “Now that we can really see what can be done, our confidence has grown and we will be looking at green and brownfield sites
more and more.
“Our new warehouse has the capacity to comfortably add three new stores per year, which is what we’ve achieved this year. There may also be the opportunity to pick up a group of stores - there have been lots of acquisitions and some companies may be looking to divest.”
Although Sands gets most of his product from Nisa-Today’s, he also puts great stock in providing local goods.
“We have got to offer something a bit different as we cannot afford to be a homogenised convenience store.
“Everyone talks about differentiation but not many actually do. We work with local suppliers to offer distinctive local products
alongside a mainstream range.”
The new head office - built using local contractors to help fuel the local economy - includes training facilities for the 400 staff at David Sands. Having highly trained and motivated staff is vital for the offering, says Sands, who runs monthly competitions, staff awards and encourages community involvement. He also carries out mystery shops and focus groups with his customers to ensure standards are high and that Sands matches local customers’ needs.
“Even though we are in a tight geographic location, we cannot have a one size fits all approach and we will tailor our offer more in the future.
“Coming from Sainsbury, I have been immersed in the ‘retail is detail’ mantra - you have to get things right for your customer every time they come into your store.”
Sands says a huge number of promotions helps to attract more customers. He has 300 promotions running at any one time on a three-week roll and, although it is extremely hard work, it’s what his customers love.
Sands has been involved in the government’s healthy eating scheme in Scotland and has been adding more emphasis on fresh. He says he has roughly doubled his fresh sales and that they account for a third of total sales.
“It’s been very expensive. I’ve lost a lot of hair because of the wastage figures each week. But fresh is important for our business and we continue to develop the range.”
The multiples’ entry into the convenience market has forced many c-store operators to up their standards, including improving the fresh range. Sands says the multiples do a tremendous job, but independents can’t just look at replicating their formats.
He says: “There’s the danger that we all copy Tesco Express or Sainsbury Local, but if you compete head on with the multiples you are always going to lose as they have the deeper pockets.”