1950s America gave Proudfoot its leading edge says Amy Balchin

Wilf Proudfoot opened his first shop in the North Riding of Yorkshire soon after the Second World War with £250 and a demob suit given to him on his exit from the Royal Air Force.
The shop was in Seamer, where the company still operates a convenience store.
Wilf then took a shop on a council housing estate in nearby Eastfield during the 1950s. “No one wanted to take it on board,” says his son Mark Proudfoot, who is now joint managing director with his brother.
The Proudfoot Group has grown to a business that today operates six stores across North Yorkshire and has a turnover of £20m. Mark attributes the growth to his father’s determination to offer his customers innovation.
“The Eastfield store was one of the first in the country to have self service and it had fridges, which was a revelation for customers,” says Mark.
Wilf, who is now company chairman, had picked up the ideas during a trip to the US to see how food retail was developing on the other side of the Atlantic. “That was where it was all happening,” says Mark.
Today, in addition to the Seamer convenience store, it operates five larger supermarkets - three around Scarborough, one in Withernsea, near Hull, and one in Barton-upon-Humber, which is the company’s biggest at 18,000 sq ft.
Major acquisitions began in the late 1970s with a chain of 10 discount stores that had their own distribution centre. These were soon sold because they were too small. Mark says: “People were moving away from discounters for a better offer so we got rid of them.”
The depot, however, was retained and formed the basis of the central distribution system that Proudfoot operates today. Thirteen years ago this was relocated to Eastfield and the company now runs a purpose-built depot, which also houses its offices. Goods are sourced direct from the supplier, with chilled and frozen food delivered by Nisa up to six days a week. “It is a fantastic service. It just works like clockwork,” says Mark.
He emphasises the importance of technology in maintaining this efficient supply chain and instore availability.
Five years ago, after problems with one software company and being told by another it would take a year to develop software that met its requirements, Proudfoot decided to develop its own system, says Mark. “That was a Wednesday afternoon. By the Monday morning we had written software which enabled us to find a product and price it up.”
Four months later, the system was operational and it is still constantly updated.
Proudfoot’s larger stores boast butcheries, bakeries, delis and a strong fruit and veg offer, which is a major footfall driver, Mark adds. There is also an emphasis on news, tobacco and off-licence and some stores have a post office.
In the Newby store, Proudfoot sells food and non-food. The upper floor is devoted to household items, clothes and hardware while the supermarket is below. This diversity has paid off - the store generates the highest sales per sq ft in the estate.
Recently, the Barton and Eastfield stores have had refits, introducing new decor and design. Withernsea has also been extended and Poundstretcher leases part of the building, which has helped to draw in customers, says Mark.
Sales at Withernsea were up significantly until Tesco moved in nearby offering 40%-off deals, prompting Proudfoot to report it to the OFT for anti-competitive behaviour - a claim which was rejected. “We are down 26% over the year at the store but this has been difficult to judge because of the poor summer,” says Mark.
The new design will now roll out into the other stores and an extension has been approved in Newby for a further 3,100 sq ft of food retail space, taking it from 7,800 to 10,900 sq ft. Mark has not ruled out further acquisitions: “We always seek opportunities but finding stores is a problem in our area.”
The Proudfoot Group, at number 41 in the The Grocer Top 50, has undoubtedly changed in its 50-plus year history and will continue to do so. The important thing is to be open to change, Mark says.
“If you don’t you will not succeed.”