Back in the game

Stephen Thompson

Morning, Noon & Night veteran Stephen Thompson has returned to local retailing with the launch of the first of a new chain of stores after a high-profile decade as Chairman of Dundee Utd FC.

By Antony Begley

Stephen Thompson is well-known to many in the local retailing sector in Scotland, particularly those of a certain age – so his return to local retailing after a very high-profile decade as Chairman of Dundee Utd was always certain to generate a lot of light and heat.

The son of Eddie Thompson OBE, the man behind the Morning, Noon and Night chain of 50 convenience stores that was sold to Scotmid for £30m in 2004, Stephen is now very much back in the local retailing game with the launch of the first of what he hopes will be as many as 30 new stores, creating up to 500 new jobs in the next five years.

“After the challenges of being at Dundee Utd, it’s been really enjoyable to return to convenience retailing,” Stephen told SLR. “My LinkedIn has been red hot since the news broke of the new store and it’s been great to hear so much positive feedback. The feedback you tend to get as Chairman of a football club makes you a little wary of reading your social media feeds!”

So, back where he first made his name, Stephen opened the first Eddy’s Food Station store in Alloa last month to much fanfare and many column inches. The name, incidentally, is apparently “a nod” to his father Eddie, even if it is spelled slightly differently.

The new store employs 14 people and, on the day SLR visited, was more than ably staffed by a team of four plus George Ezady, Area Manager of the Discovery Retail business that runs the stores. George has been in the sector for over 30 years, including eight years as an Area Manager with the Co-op as well as stints with WH Smith and as a store manager at Harris Aslam’s Glenshire Group.

Eddy's Food Station

The focus for the chain, as the name suggests, is very much food-to-go and that is clear from the get-go with external signage and A-boards tempting shoppers with an array of hot and cold food-to-go options.

When we visited, the store had only been open for a week – and had been closed for seven years before that – so it was always going to be a challenge to move the new business through the gears quickly, but George has been quietly pleased with the first week’s trading. “The store has been here for 60 or more years and was independently owned by the same family,” he explains. “About seven years ago it was closed for a full refit and, thanks to a series of major health issues, the owners never re-opened it. So, when we finally turned the lock on the door it was immaculate, with new chillers, new fixtures, the lot – even if the kit was a little outdated.”

All that kit has been replaced and has gone into storage in case it can be pressed back into service as the chain grows. “Everything in the store is brand new, absolutely everything,” says George. “But we knew that we had to re-establish the store in the local community, and we knew that would take time – but we’re doing all the right things like working social media hard and doing great deals on hot food to drive trial and footfall so we’ve been quite pleased with the first week. We’re already seeing ‘regulars’ and we’re seeing new faces every day.”

The food-to-go offer is well presented and is clearly the heart of the store, offering a range of traditional hot and cold favourites like sausage rolls, Scotch pies, mac cheese, pizza, and bacon rolls, with many lines supplied Stuart’s Bakers & Butchers.

Clean, bright LED digital screens highlight menus and specials, and a hefty range of apparently very expensive catering equipment ensures everything is cooked to perfection.

While food-to-go is what the store is all about, it still offers the broad range of traditional convenience categories you’d expect with a particular emphasis on important categories like fresh and chilled and alcohol.

Eddy's Food Station

Supplied by Booker through its Budgens group, as well as a number of Scottish wholesalers, the store features an extensive range of fresh produce, much of it from Booker’s Jack’s range. Larger-format packs are also evident across the store with chilled multipacks of beer, sharing bags of crisps and snacks, large format soft drinks and sharing confectionery all very much in evidence.

The store also features a Lavazza coffee machine to complement the strong food-to-go offer.

Shopfitting standards are very high and, as you might expect after just a week of trading, the place is immaculate – with the four-strong team ensuring it stayed that way throughout the day.

Interior signage is smart with a striking blue and orange theme that helps set the store apart visually from other chains.

The store sits with a housing estate on one side and shoppers must travel half a mile in either direction to find the nearest competition, a Co-op and a Scotmid. There’s also a school nearby which presents a host of opportunities if George and the team can find ways to lure the schoolkids to the store.

Stephen and George haven’t yet appointed a store manager, recruitment being a challenge that faces all retailers at the moment – but one should be in place soon.

Also in the pipeline is a free-to-use ATM. The machine is already on site and was scheduled to be up and running within a day or so of our visit.

Eddy's Food Station

All told, it’s a very good, professional store that does all the modern basics well and certainly bodes well for the future of the Eddy’s Food Station chain. It fits a lot into a relatively small space – possibly around 1,500sq ft – and offers locals plenty of reasons to drop by and check it out. And the chances are, if they visit it once they will return.

As for future growth, the second store is due to be unveiled shortly in Kirkcaldy. While George was unwilling to officially confirm exactly where the new store is, he did reveal that “it’s very much a trading store with a strong food-to-go business” and is, apparently, a good bit bigger than the Alloa premises.

Targeting 50 stores inside five years is a huge ask, but Stephen remains confident, even if the last year or two haven’t helped. “It’s a difficult time to launch a new chain,” he admits, “and we have had a whole lot of challenges getting the business up and running because of the pandemic – but we’re off and running now and we’re all excited about the future.

“This an extremely exciting first leg of a long journey for the Eddy’s Food Station brand. The retail industry is an industry I know and love. It’s an avenue I’ve always wanted to return to, and I couldn’t be happier that it’s finally happening. We’re investing heavily in resources and research into our offering and we’re passionate about giving our customers an unrivalled, superior experience. We’re taking this opportunity to shake up the market, creating a retail experience that combines convenience and quality and goes above and beyond customer expectations.

“Expansion is very much front and centre and so we are continuing to scope out further sites for future stores in more central and convenient locations.

“Our employees are fully equipped to create an environment that will give customers the best possible experience and create a real sense of community.”

Fittingly, Stephen leaves the last word to his father: “I’m thrilled to be following in his footsteps with this new venture and look forward to embracing the journey ahead as the Eddy’s Food Station network grows.