If you meet Maynews’ MD Tony Wright at the company’s York HQ, the first thing you notice is his collection of model vehicles from suppliers that have visited him over the years. Displayed neatly on a cabinet, many are in their original packaging and probably worth a bob or too.
Much the same could be said of Wright’s collection of 22 quality CTN stores, judging by the latest full year results, which showed a 16% leap in sales to £8.5m. But, in both cases,, it is not money that drives Wright; it is the pursuit of quality.
“We need to constantly develop better shops,” says the no-nonsense Yorkshire man. “I’m always getting rid of the tail of the estate while continuing to expand. If you stop moving, you’re dead.”
This focus is demonstrated by the location of Maynews’ outlets, which occupy prime sites in high footfall areas in town centres or near bus and train stations.
Overheads are low, because of the size of shops, the largest of which measure 400 sq ft and the smallest of which are 150 sq ft kiosks.
However, shops such as these are few and far between, says Wright: “We’re looking to buy high volume CTNs, but they are difficult to find. We’re looking to take on board another three this year.”
He likes to acquire leaseholds rather than freeholds, but acknowledges that rents are often too high. There was also a period in which he attempted to open kiosks on station platforms, but the dominance of larger retail chains such as Whistlestop and WH Smith made it difficult to secure such sites at a realistic price.
Though the quality of the stores is important, it is not as critical as the quality of the people that run them. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to find the right calibre of manager, says Wright: “One of the major problems I have at the moment is getting hold of good managers. Retail is not a nine-to-five occupation, so it’s got to be in the blood. I often try and identify a manager first, then secure a shop unit for them.”
Convenience store chains Mills Group and TM Retail have proved rich mines for managers in the past, he says.
Wright’s dogged quest for quality is matched by a solid knowledge of the strengths of the business. He says: “We need to continue investing our energies in buying up newsrounds from other retailers. That makes a big difference to our shops.”
Many larger retailers steer clear of delivering newspapers, he says, because the return it provides them isn’t worth the nuisance of managing it. But that leaves the coast clear for Maynews to take on what he believes is still a highly valued service.
Speaking of highly valued services, offering customers as many others as possible, such as PayPoint and National Lottery, will also be crucial to future plans says Wright: “I want to improve the service side of the business to keep up with consumer demand. In some ways Camelot has been our saviour and I hope they retain the National Lottery licence. Why fix what isn’t broken?”
He says developing add-on services helps offset very flat growth from confectionery, traditionally one of Maynews’ core product areas, especially chocolate, a category dominated by the major supermarkets. “We’ve got to look at ways of reducing our reliance on the category and giving more space to drinks and snacks,” says Wright. He is confident his longstanding supply contract with buying group Key Lekkerland will see him through that process.
Wright is adamant that a drive for quality and desire to match business strength to core areas of consumer demand will enable independents to not only survive but also to flourish. And that will be fundamental to maintaining consumer choice and freedom in the face of the rise the major supermarkets’ convenience formats, a cause dear to his heart. He says: “The development of retailers such as Tesco does destroy the character of areas and I think we should fight to preserve the diversity of town centres.”
If every independent shared his passion for quality, there’s no telling how much the sector could develop. And Wright’s vision could see Maynews play a key part in that development.
Although Maynews this year entered The Grocer’s Top 50 league of independent retailers for the first time, at number 49, its history stretches back well over a hundred years.
It begins back in 1880 when confectioner Maynards, whose name lives on through Maynards Wine Gums, began building a manufacturing, wholesaling and retail business. The company had more than 250 confectionery shops stretching across the UK in its heyday.
As time went on, competition intensified, so the company began to develop a traditional CTN offering and moved into selling newspapers. When Tony Wright set up Maynews as MD in June 1984, he chose the company name to reflect this newstrade offering and its roots in Maynards. Most of its stores had been sold off by then and just 13 remained.
“I cherry picked the best ones,” says Wright, who joined Maynards in 1964 as an assistant district manager, progressing to northern regional director. Now Wright is looking to incorporate more services and traditional c-store lines into Maynews outlets.
Its 22-store estate consists mainly of shops in and around York, plus six under the Capital News fascia in London and two in Bristol.
When Wright took on the business, he worked from his garage extension with just his wife and secretary to help. In the early 1990s, he moved to headquarters in Strensall, York. Ans in the mid 1990s, he moved again - to the current offices in Clifton Moore, York.