There are few scenarios more nightmarish for a local retailer than an Aldi moving in next door, and in the case of Edinburgh Premier retailers Dennis and Linda Williams, the discounter is set to move in almost literally next door in January.
The couple have had a long time to prepare for the arrival of their unwelcome neighbour and the official opening date has been pushed back on several occasions, the latest delay at least giving them one last crack at Christmas before their world gets turned upside down. Anyone that knows SGF President Dennis, however, knows that he doesn’t do pessimism and despair. From day one he has remained positive, upbeat and optimistic – and it’s that sort of attitude that will go a long way to ensuring a long-term future for a store that’s been happily and loyally serving the local community for over three decades.
But it will take more than optimism to secure the store’s future and it has been absolutely fascinating to witness how Dennis and Linda have gone about preparing for battle. It has also been enormously heartening to see the vast amount of support that Booker’s Premier fascia has dedicated to working with Dennis and Linda as D-Day looms. From Booker CEO Charles Wilson down, the fascia group’s commitment to the store has been little short of astonishing.
In Dennis’s own words, “they literally couldn’t have done anything more to help us”, from strategic planning to tactical support. Working with Premier Brand Director Martyn Parkinson, Dennis and Linda drafted a battle plan to focus on everything they could do that Aldi couldn’t. There is, as experience shows, little point in trying to tackle Aldi head on at their own game – so the key has been to focus on delivering a great range of products and services that Aldi can’t or won’t match, as well as customer service on a level that, certainly in my experience, Aldi don’t even attempt to offer.
A brand new Premier Deli hot food-to-go section was unveiled last month along with a new coffee machine, as was an improved tobacco and vaping offer, areas all untouched by Aldi. Big brands at great value prices in all categories (including on the impressive new spirits gantry) will also feature heavily over coming months, as they always do at Premier, as well as exceptional pricing on staples like sugar, bread and milk, all geared towards driving footfall and offering reasons to visit that Aldi can’t match.
Let’s be honest though – and both Dennis and Linda acknowledge this fact – it’s going to a be tough few months at the start of 2018, but the hard work of the last year or so means that they can satisfy themselves with the knowledge that there’s not much more they could have done – and with the backing of Booker they have built a robust, modern business that is virtually unrecognisable from just two to three years ago.
I certainly have everything crossed for a positive result and I’m sure all independent retailers across Scotland will wish Dennis and Linda the very best of luck in proving that the arrival of a supermarket or discounter doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the world. Give them laldy, Dennis and Linda. We’re all with you.
Antony Begley, Publishing Director