Sales growth year-on-year: 69%
Type of operation: Groceries and non-food discounter
Simon Arora is a fast mover. In just three years, the chief executive of thriving Lancashire discounter B&M Retail has masterminded his company's ascent up the ranks of The Grocer Top 50 list by negotiating bulk orders of surplus factory stock and snapping up the properties of struggling retailers.
B&M - originally known as Bargain Madness - recorded a hefty 69% sales growth to £147m last year and increased its number of stores from 38 to 71. It also posted year-on-year profit growth of 278% last year and climbed from 12th to sixth in the Top 50 ranks. And the company has big aspirations for the year, with turnover predicted to soar to £210m.
Although B&M has been operating since 1976, it is only since brothers Simon and Bobby Arora bought the then 21-store chain in January 2005 that business has started to seriously pick up. So how has it achieved such rapid growth in such a short time?
A willingness to quickly seize opportunities - and properties - is a top priority in Arora's business strategy and he credits the chain's rapid expansion to this dynamic acquisition mentality. “The current economic climate is creating more site acquisition opportunities as other retailers hold back on expansion,” he says.
As well as using retained agents to spot new site opportunities, B&M has also acquired individual sites from retailers who have left the business. Last October, it snapped up eight former Kwik Save stores in the north-east and it expects to acquire 15 more stores by the end of the year. “We offer a great opportunity for independents to exit their business, achieving a good price for fixtures and fittings, and protecting the employment rights of staff,” Arora says.
B&M's estate is scattered across the north-west of England, with stores ranging in size from 7,000 sq ft to 17,000 sq ft, and this is where it intends to stay in the short term. Its acquisition focus will continue to be on properties within four hours' drive of Lancashire, where it is based, says Arora. Such rapid expansion will be helped, certainly in the short term, by the record food inflation hitting the industry. The discounter's ability to provide cheap prices and a wide and continuously updated range of stock appeals to the growing ranks of price-conscious shoppers.
B&M's outlets generally stock a mix of 70% groceries and 30% non-food, including electrical goods and garden furniture. Rock-bottom prices for household branded groceries and non-food have led to a 12% rise in footfall over the past year, says Arora. As far as non-food goes, B&M has exclusive sourcing arrangements with Chinese suppliers.
Yet Arora says it is the company's flexible stock-buying strategy with branded grocery that gives it the real edge. “We hold open days every Tuesday when wholesalers of branded grocery goods can see our buyers without an appointment and we keep significant warehouse capacity for quick bulk buys,” he says. “Our suppliers value our readiness to make quick decisions on surplus or dated stock. This is reflected in our low shelf prices. Because we remain on the acquisition trail, we require extra space to keep stock. So we have just extended our main warehouse from 120,000 sq ft to 520,000 sq ft to enable bulk buying on a bigger scale.”
B&M has also benefited from increased consumer confidence in discounters, according to finance director Steve Wakeman. “The enhanced profile of Aldi and Lidl coupled with their TV advertising pushes have boosted the general perception of discounters,” says Wakeman. “As shoppers become more conscious of a product's value, they are happier to shop in discounters. And the quality of bargain products has noticeably improved over the past few years.”
With 30,000 transactions across its stores each week, B&M has invested heavily in technology to drive down costs and increase margins. New electronic point-of-sale and auto-replenishment software to monitor availability has reduced out of stocks and wastage. “This is essential considering the speed at which our business has grown and the huge stocks we now keep,” says Wakeman.
Speed is of the essence for independents like B&M, says Arora. As, of course, are low prices - and that's why B&M is sitting pretty despite the credit crunch.