Building up the team will allow the Scottish Grocers Federation more latitude to work hand-in-hand with retailers across Scotland, and provide an even stronger voice for the industry. In conversation, Pete Cheema, chief executive, has been putting his own voice to good use, explaining his vision for the Federation’s future to Antony Begley.
When he looks back on 2016, there’s little doubt that Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF) Chief Executive Pete Cheema can take some satisfaction from what the Federation achieved in a hectic but largely very productive 12-month period. By most objective standards, it’s clear that SGF has made significant progress on most fronts. Even the most sceptical observer would have to admit that the Federation is in a better place today than it has been in many a long year.
That’s not to say the job is done – far from it – and Cheema is the first to accept that, but the work that he, John Lee, Pauline Mullen and the small team at SGF have done over the last 18 months has put the Federation on a sound financial footing, establishing a platform upon which a regenerated Federation can be confidently built.
Some feathers have been ruffled along the way, but many in the industry would support the notion that some tough decisions had to be made if SGF was to be re-moulded into an organisation capable of truly fulfilling its duties on behalf of its members.
Brought on board by immediate past SGF president Abdul Majid, Cheema has brought a drive and energy to the role that has seen a remarkable transformation of the Federation’s fortunes in a short period.
“I think most people would accept that 2016 was the best year the Federation has had in a very, very long time,” reflects Cheema. “We still have a long way to go – I’m fully aware of that – but I think that last 12 months has gone a long way to ensuring that SGF remains relevant in the modern convenience retailing environment.”
Cheema is clearly also very conscious of the symbolic importance of building a head of steam as the organisation approaches its historic centenary year in 2018. “We’ve built a solid foundation over the last 18 months and we need to build on that this year to make sure that SGF is just as relevant and important to the wider industry as it was 100 years ago. We want to do that legacy proud.”
With networking and practical advice near the top of the priority list for SGF, the annual calendar of SGF events continues to grow and strengthen, with all events free to attend for retailers, including the SGF Annual Conference – an important fact that often gets overlooked.
This year’s calendar is packed with seminars, summits and conferences addressing areas of vital importance to the Scottish local retailing community like crime, regulations and the role of technology in modern convenience.
“We have tried extremely hard to build a programme of events that gives retailers, wholesalers, suppliers and influencers more and more opportunities to get together, keep up to date and build relationships that will ultimately benefit everyone in our industry,” says Cheema.
“But we’re not trying to have events for the sake of it,” he adds. “We’re creating events and networking opportunities that have solid outputs. The forthcoming crime seminar at the Police Scotland College at Tulliallan Castle on 15 February is a great example. We all know retail crime is a major issue so we’ve worked with the Scottish Business Resilience Centre to produce an updated Retail Crime Report for our industry.
“This Report provides a wealth of facts, figures and detail about the nature and scale of retail crime. Professionally produced and researched documents like this and the Scottish Local Shop Report that we produced last year are invaluable in helping us demonstrate to politicians and influencers that these issues are things that need addressed at the highest levels.”
Establishing and strengthening relationships with those in power is another area where SGF has made huge strides over the last 18 months, thanks in no small part to John Lee, Cheema’s right hand man and SGF’s Head of Policy and Public Affairs.
One of the most major lobbying coups of the last year, and one of Lee’s most noteworthy triumphs, was the establishment of the Cross-Party Group (CPG) on Independent Retailing. Chaired by Gordon MacDonald MSP, the CPG provides the Scottish local retailing industry with a unique and enormously valuable platform for direct engagement with decision-makers and influencers from all political parties in Holyrood, as well as improved indirect access to MPs in Westminster.
Cheema is unsurprisingly ebullient on the establishment of the CPG, but warns that the ultimate success of the Group depends on the active participation of retailers, wholesalers and suppliers.
“The CPG is already going from strength to strength,” he says. “We’ve had a few very positive and successful meetings attended by around 15 MSPs from all major parties and we’ve had excellent support from the industry with packed rooms et every meeting. It’s up to us all now to ensure that we make the best possible use of this invaluable access to politicians to ensure that those who make the decisions understand the value, the scale and the importance of the Scottish local retailing industry to the wider Scottish economy, particularly when they are involved in decision-making that affects the industry.”
More good news comes in the form of the appointment a new assistant to John Lee who will help develop SGF’s lobbying capabilities. The new start was due to join the Federation as SLR went to press but it’s certainly worthy of note that this is the second new appointment in quick succession, following the hiring of Irati Ugarte to provide an extra pair of hands on admin, communications and events work.
“The Federation is growing for the first time in over 40 years,” says Cheema. “Bringing in extra staff will help the Federation grow even quicker and deliver even more for its members in the future. The team here has done so well over the last 18 months but it’s been obvious to us all that we needed a bigger team so I’m delighted we’re able to deliver that.”
Cheema also indicates that he intends to bring more local retailers on board at SGF in some capacity to help inform strategy for the future. While he is unable to name names quite yet, discussions are already underway with a number of top notch retailers in Scotland, which seems an eminently sensible move.
The final pillar of the new SGF strategy revolves around improved communications between SGF and its various stakeholders and evidence of progress on that front is abundant.
The new SGF mobile app is proving a popular tool and allows the Federation to keep its audience updated on everything that it does in a user-friendly, real-time format. Similarly, the Federation website has been upgraded while the quarterly Community Shop newsletter, distributed with SLR, now reaches a wider audience than ever before.
A regular e-shot programme sees a wide range of data and news circulated to retailers, wholesalers, suppliers and influencers while software and hardware improvements back at Federation House mean the SGF team is better equipped than ever to manage its social media and wider communications strategies.
“It’s fair to say we’re in decent shape these days,” concludes Cheema. “The foundation we have built is a solid one and we have every reason to believe that 2017 can be even more successful for SGF. I firmly believe that our industry needs a strong SGF and we are fully committed to delivering it.”