What a difference a year makes

Pete Cheema

2015 was a transformational year for the Scottish Grocers’ Federation under the dynamic duo of President Abdul Majid and Chief Executive Pete Cheema. As 2016 gets underway, SLR gets the lowdown on a remarkable year for the Scottish local retailing industry’s lead body.

by Antony Begley

For an organisation only a couple of years from its 100th birthday, 2015 was always going to be an important year for the Scottish Grocers’ Federation. The year began with much upheaval and a new management team installed by President Abdul Majid. That team, headed up by Pete Cheema, was set the not insignificant challenge of revitalising the Federation, putting it back on an even financial keel and strengthening the bonds between the SGF and its many stakeholders including retailers, wholesaler and suppliers.

Majid explains: “There’s no doubt that the decision to instigate an overhaul of the SGF was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to take, but I was absolutely convinced – and remain so to this day – that the Federation had lost its way to a certain extent, and wasn’t representing the independent retail sector in the way retailers needed it to.”

What the Federation needed, says Majid, was a plan – and that’s what incoming Chief Executive Pete Cheema was charged with delivering.

And deliver he did, building what quickly became his ‘CLAN’ strategy, a strategy that both Cheema and Majid believed captured the essence of what SGF should be delivering for its Members and stakeholders: better Communications across the board, enhanced Lobbying at all levels on behalf of Members, more comprehensive and frequent Advice and improved quality Networking opportunities.

So, as we approach the end of Cheema’s first year of tenure, what are the scores on the doors?

“There’s absolutely no doubt that 2015 was a tough and challenging year for the Scottish Grocers’ Federation,” says Cheema, “but there’s also no doubt how far the Federation has come in the last 12 months. We set out some very clear aims in early 2015 and I believe we’ve delivered against each and every one of those aims – and that’s a huge credit to the entire SGF team who have worked tirelessly on behalf of Scotland’s retailers.”

A headstrong and tireless activist himself, Cheema’s get-it-done approach belies his many years as a retailer on the shopfloor and may not have met with universal approval, but there’s very little doubting the fact that 2015 has indeed witnessed the biggest shake up of the Federation in a generation. On paper, 2015 has been little short of a spectacular success for an organisation that had, for historic and complex reasons, been losing momentum and support in many areas of the trade.

Membership among suppliers is up 50% in the last year, something Cheema feels is vital to a strong SGF; the annual Conference was a huge success; the volume and quality of publications produced by the Federation is at an all time high; the annual SGF Golf Day was the best attended ever; and the annual Study Tour was arguably the most successful and innovative to date.

‘CLAN’ focus

At the beginning of 2015 Pete Cheema publicly set out a four-pronged ‘CLAN’ strategy for the SGF that he believed would set the Federation on the path to becoming a more powerful force for the Scottish trade than ever before:

  1. Communication
  2. Lobbying
  3. Advice
  4. Networking

Onwards, onwards

“The past is the past,” says Cheema. “All I can comment on is the last year, the challenges I was handed by the President, and how I feel we as a Federation have performed – and I can hand on heart say that I firmly believe that while we haven’t gotten everything right, we’ve had a bloody good go at it, we’ve made some amazing progress and no matter which way you look at it, the Federation is in far better shape than it was a year ago.

“There are lots of indicators you can look at to judge progress and I welcome more engagement from all of our stakeholders, but on the face of it we’ve done a great job of making the SGF relevant again for a lot of people,” says Cheema.

“Abdul was adamant that we put retailers front and centre once again but to do that we need the support of the wider industry. Our suppliers are vital to us and their support means that we were able to do things like invite every independent retailer to our Conference absolutely free of charge, the first time that’s ever happened.”

While supplier Membership has risen by 50%, Cheema still sees plenty of room for more suppliers to get involved and believes that the increased engagement is indicative of the importance of the independent channel to the wider industry.

He says: “We always need more suppliers on board, but the growth in supplier Membership demonstrates the appetite suppliers have for working closer with independent retailers when the right frameworks and opportunities are in place. And it’s SGF’s job to put those frameworks and opportunities in place.”

But it’s not all downhill from here, admits Cheema. The hard work is only just beginning.

“I and my team have been working at 110mph to get everything done over the last year but we’re probably only 80% of the way towards where we need to be,” he says.

A quick look at the 2016 SGF networking calendar tells its own story. With SGF events taking place literally every month in 2016 there are more opportunities than ever for retailers, wholesalers, suppliers and influencers to network and strengthen relationships.

2015: a few highlights

Holyrood Exhibition
January: Supported by SLR, SGF started 2015 with a bang by taking its message direct to Holyrood with a purpose-built exhibition within the Scottish Parliament to push the trade’s key messages to those making the decisions.

Annual Golf Day
August: The best attended and most successful golf day in the Federation’s history saw retailers, wholesalers and suppliers descend on a wet and windy but thoroughly spectacular St Andrews to battle it out around The Duke’s Course.

Study Tour
September: In an innovative twist on the traditional SGF Study Tour, a large gathering of some of the leading lights of the industry visited Musselburgh in ‘undercover’ mode to check out the town’s many discounters and learn from the fastest growing sector in grocery.

Annual Conference
October: Over 100 independent retailers attended a spectacular Conference at RBS Gogarburn and Dalmahoy Hotel and Country Club, completely free of charge, to hear a stellar line up of speakers, enjoy an extensive supplier exhibition and attend a series of hugely well-received breakout sessions.

Lobbying step change

“Our political engagement has also been moved up a gear or two now,” he comments. “We’ve already secured First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as a speaker at next year’s Conference, which shows the regard in which SGF is now held by the Scottish Government. Our relationships with all of the political parties in Scotland are stronger than ever and our voice is being heard – and listened to – at the very highest levels.”

But it’s not only in Holyrood that SGF is making its mark these days. Prime Minister David Cameron’s office formally contacted Cheema to propose Lord Dunlop as a speaker for the forthcoming SGF Success in Scotland Summit in March, a reflection of the Federation’s standing in Westminster too.

Cheema also rhymes off a raft of new carefully researched publications SGF is now or will soon be providing for retailers: The Crime and Safer Business Guide, The Minimum Standards Charter for In-Store Security Guide, The Licensing & Age Restricted Products Guide and an E-cigarettes Retailers Guide to New Legislation.

Several of these publications are being provided in innovative ‘e-learning’ style formats as the Federation embraces the digital age and makes it as easy and convenient as possible for independent retailers to access the business-critical advice and information they need to run responsible, profitable businesses.

“These aren’t small issues,” says Cheema. “For the Federation to be as effective as it can be on behalf of its Members we need to put a lot of different pieces of the jigsaw together. We can’t do all of that overnight, but we have a vision and we have a strategy for achieving that vision and we are making very clear progress towards our goals.”

The reality remains that for some in the Scottish trade, the jury is still out on just how effective the new management team is at Federation House, but that’s something Cheema and Majid are aware of and are learning to embrace.

“Listen,” says Majid. “We know big changes have happened and they’ve had to happen quickly, and we fully appreciate that major change can be difficult for many, but I think the achievements of the past year speak for themselves and I’m confident the Federation is building a solid platform we can all build on towards our centenary year and beyond.”

This will continue to require co-operation and support from the entire trade in Scotland, as Cheema concludes: “We are working very hard to demonstrate to all of our stakeholders that we are firmly moving in the right direction – and I urge everyone to get behind SGF and back your Federation, in every way you can. We are truly stronger together.”

SGF Events 2016

A packed calendar of activity for 2016, all completely free to retailers, has already been scheduled, including:

Tuesday 16th (am) | Silver/Bronze Members’ Club Meeting
Tuesday 16th | SGF/SBRC Crime Seminar
Tuesday 16th (pm) | Gold Members’ Club Meeting & Dinner

Thursday 17th | Success in Scotland Summit
Thursday 17th (evening) | Networking Event

Thursday 7th | Hustings Event

Tuesday 10th (1.00-5.00pm) | SGF Retailers Event – Impact of Regulations

Wednesday 15th | Gold Members’ Club Meeting
Wednesday 15th | SGF Networking Event – An Audience with politicians from the recent elections

Cricket Match

Wednesday 24th | SGF AGMs
Wednesday 24th (afternoon) | SGF Silver/Bronze Club Meeting
Wednesday 31st | SGF Golf Outing

Thursday 8th | SGF Study Tour
Friday 30th Sept – Sunday 2nd October SGF Annual Conference

Tuesday 15th (afternoon) | SGF Gold Members’ Club Meeting
Thursday 24th | SGF Networking Event