Flicking through old annual reports for Watson & Philip makes for interesting reading. Starting with documents from 1993, you can follow the company as it makes the shift from being a diversified wholesale and retail operation into a company that by the end of 1998 was totally focused on convenience retailing. More important, you can get an insight into how the company became so fixated on the growth offered through franchising that management control of the business was being eroded. Back in 1993, the then chief executive David Bremner ­ now in charge of Sainsbury's supermarkets division ­ explained how the company's convenience stores business had been totally realigned. It had bought Circle C and had offloaded its Spar and VG wholesaling interests. It was now a pure c-store retailer that was investing heavily in IT systems and a distribution network, said Bremner. "There is a robust platform in place upon which we will aggressively expand. We will expand on two fronts. First, by adding company owned stores. Second by increasing our franchising." And it did grow aggressively. At the end of 1993 it had 330 stores. A year later, Watson & Philip had rebranded all its stores as Alldays after its licence agreement with Circle K was terminated and had a network of 335 stores. Of these, 293 were company owned following the acquisition of Circle K franchisees Midlands Convenience Stores and Convenience Stores West. It then bought the 46 strong Circle C business and 15 other stores. "Alldays is now even better equipped to handle future expansion," Bremner boasted in the 1994 report. Shareholders were told the growth of the network would be boosted by the franchise concept of Regional Development Companies, which encouraged independent business executives to develop licensed chains of Alldays stores. And by the end of 1995, the company was talking about raising its number of stores from 440 to 1,000 by the year 2000. That target was reaffirmed by Colin Glass, who took over as chief executive in September 1996 after Bremner was poached by Sainsbury. At the end of 1996, W&P had 526 stores, of which 240 were franchised, with 169 run by 20 RDCs. But by now alarm bells were ringing among some City analysts who raised concerns about the risks associated with the RDC programme, particularly over the lack of operational control that it gave W&P and the potentially huge off balance sheet liabilities associated with the programme. Watson & Philip remained committed to the franchise route. By the end of 1997, it had 759 stores of which 302 were in the hands of the 31 RDCs and 205 operated by other franchisees such as Total Oil. By the time of the 1998 annual report, W&P had 959 c-stores, of which 452 were run by 32 RDCs. It had also sold its foodservice arm, renamed itself Alldays, bought the Walter Wilson c-store chain, seen its results crash ­ and decided it was time to do a U-turn. "A review has identified the benefits of a change in emphasis from growth in store numbers to achievement of operational excellence...There will be no further RDCs...It is expected that the number will reduce over the next two years," said Glass. {{COVER FEATURE }}