Back in the chain gang?

Antony Begley

When SLR first saw the light of day, about two decades ago, the sector in Scotland looked very different from how it looks today. The most obvious difference was a whole array of fairly large chains: Botterills, Aberness, Morning, Noon & Night and many more that retailers of a more mature vintage will no doubt recall.

Over the years, however, as the economy flourished before the almighty crash of 2009, all of these famous chains were sold on to larger, growth-hungry multiple groups, often Scotmid and the Co-op – and often for inflated figures that probably over-valued the business. Great news for the retailers doing the selling, of course.

The last major chain to go was David Sands in 2012 and the sector was left unrecognisable. The days of the Scottish independent chain seemed all but over.

Over the last few years however, it has started to look like there may be a new chain gang in town. David Sands has returned to the sector in a variety of guises, Harris Aslam has built up his portfolio of stores, Jay Javid is building his own growing empire and, most recently, Stephen Thompson has returned to the convenience retailing fray with a public commitment to building a chain of up to 50 stores in the next five years.

After a decade of being Chairman of Dundee Utd, the former Morning, Noon & Night man opened his first store just last month in Alloa and, as you read this, he will be opening his second store in Kirkcaldy under the new Eddy’s Food Station brand. The last time Stephen appeared on the cover of SLR was back in the very early 2000s!

It’s probably not unfair to say that building a 50-store chain in five years is what might be referred to in footballing circles as ‘a big ask’, certainly in the current economic climate. But Stephen is an ambitious man and who knows? Predicting the future has never been a reliable sport and, at the minute, we’ve no idea what’s round the corner next week, never mind in five years’ time.

But one thing is for sure: the sector is in an interesting period once more and it will be fascinating to see what the future brings.

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Antony Begley, Publishing Director