Know thine enemy

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This year’s SGF Study Tour took a new and innovative approach by infiltrating the discounters – and saw an intrepid group of local retailers, wholesalers and suppliers spend a day in Musselburgh on an undercover tour of the many discounters that operate in the east coast town.

by Antony Begley


The SGF Study Tour is always an interesting day our for those in attendance; it is, after all, always a great use of your time to visit other stores and see what they are doing well and what they are doing not so well.

This year’s study tour in Musselburgh added an extra twist however as delegates were taken on an industrial espionage tour and invited to go ‘undercover’ to get a much closer look at those most feared and revered of competitors: the discounters.

SGF Chief Executive Pete Cheema explained: “It’s probably becoming obvious to the convenience retailing industry in Scotland, and further afield, that SGF is embracing innovation and creativity in how it goes about its work these days, and this study tour was just another example of that.

“We’re all very aware of how successful the discounters have been in recent years – mostly at the expense of the major multiples, thankfully – but it’s clear that shoppers find their offer attractive so this provided our attendees with a great opportunity to find out more about these fast-growing companies.”

Undercover agents

The event was extremely well attended with representatives from the local retailing, wholesaling and supplier side all donning their casual attire as they attempted to look as inconspicuous as possible as they proceeded from one discounter to the next in groups of 10 or 12. Musselburgh is blessed (or cursed) with a frightening amount of discounters in a very small geographical footprint – so much so that the group could visit six different discounters without having to walk more than a few hundred yards.

Organised with military precision by SGF’s John Lee, most groups got around all six stores without too much attention from store managers, but one group did have the ignominy of being asked to leave!

That aside, the day proved to be a great success and at the dinner that followed, Professor Leigh Sparkes of Stirling University hosted a lively and engaging debate and recap of the day.

For most in attendance, the day proved a surprising experience in one way or another. Many of the surprises were positive – the deals on offer were at times simply unbelievable – but many surprises were less positive. In fact, the overall feeling that most came away with was a feeling that the stores were reasonably poorly merchandised and store standards were not fantastic, with the possibly exception of the German discounters Aldi and Lidl.

So it wasn’t all bad news and it was possible to take heart from what was a very enlightening day. There’s no question the discounters offer great deals but the ranges available were hugely inconsistent and many of the standards we encountered were far from impressive.


  • Our undercover operatives visited six discounters in Musselburgh: Aldi, Iceland, Lidl, B&M, Poundland and Poundstretcher.