Earlier this year CJ Lang marketing man Philippe Rondepierre moved south to join Spar UK. He takes time out of his schedule to speak to SLR about the change of role, and his plans.
How’s the new job going, Philippe?
I’m settling in well – enjoying it thoroughly. To be honest my feet haven’t really touched the ground since arriving in Harrow.
So it’s not strictly a desk job then?
No. I’ve been doing a fair amount of travelling. With this position being UK-wide I’m responsible for Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as the three Regional Development Centres in England.
You must be getting a good picture of Spar’s UK operations then?
I joined in March, which was exactly the right time. We’re developing a huge £5m media plan which will kick off in October and run right through until Easter 2014. I’ve been meeting with creative agencies and it’s getting exciting. It’s going to be a big campaign, the largest Spar has undertaken for some years.
What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed?
This job is very different to my previous role, which focussed only on Scotland – now, I can’t lose focus on Scotland but every region needs an equal footing, so I need to ensure we’re looking after the interests of all Spar retailers, so I’m developing my knowledge of each region.
And how do Scotland’s Spar retailers shape up in comparison?
I think Scottish retailers compare very well. There are similarities too. The South West is akin to Scotland’s west coast with a lot of small towns and a big tourist industry. There are more large urban areas of course so I’m familarising myself with them.
Where could Scottish stores do better?
It’s not a case of doing better, but what I would say is that Scotland in the main doesn’t benefit from the same level of footfall as many parts of England so they have to work even harder.
Have you been getting into many stores then?
Not as many as I’d like, but that’s almost always the case. I’ve been to a lot of national forums though and I’ve been visiting a few competing stores, the likes of M-Local and Waitrose’s convenience stores. As ever, we’ve got the advantage of being able to adapt locally. The advantage for Spar, and all independent retailers, is that they really care about their shops and their customers.
What’s your thoughts on the sector at the moment?
The convenience sector is still developing fast. Discounter growth has overtaken even that though. As people become busier they want to spend less time grocery shopping so ‘little and often’ is becoming more prominent.
Is Spar in a good place to benefit from this?
Spar was there first – it invented the concept of “8 ‘til late”. That prompted others to replicate it. The entire c-sector is fantastic but I honestly think Spar continues to be one of the main innovators. A key indicator is our store in Penwortham where we’ve grown sales by 9%. We’ve reduced grocery space by 20% but grown section sales by 12%.
Impressive stuff – how did you manage that?
By making sure the range is fit for purpose, matching the range to missions so there’s not as much depth of range but a bigger breadth for every day shopping. A lot of groups are adapting, doing these things, but I still think Spar are among the leading innovators.
What do you miss most about Scotland. Is it the weather?
Ha! No. I have to say, it’s my friends and colleagues. I’ve got a brilliant team down here that do invaluable work, but of course I miss the previous team. Though I do still speak to Gerry Welsh on a regular basis and we’ll continue to work together.