Irish retail giant with a million customers a day cashes in on staying 'local like you'
With four store brands to manage, Suzanne Weldon of BWG Group tells John McGee how she juggles them all
With annual retail sales in excess of €1.4bn, 1,030 stores trading under the Spar, EUROSPAR, Londis, Mace and XL brands, the retail, wholesale and food-service company BWG Group has cornered around 11pc of the Irish grocery market and approximately 40pc of the convenience retail sector in Ireland.
With over 1,300 staff employed directly by BWG and another 22,000 employed throughout the network of independent retailers, it is also one of the biggest direct employers in the country.
As group marketing director for the last 12 years, Suzanne Weldon oversees the marketing functions of all the different brands and played a key role in the group's expansion and the different positioning of the brands in what is a cut-throat market.
You oversee the marketing functions for a lot of prominent retail brands. How do you juggle all of this?
"I am responsible for all of the different brands and I work very closely, and in partnership with, the many independent retailers in the network across the country as well as the marketing teams for each of these brands.
"Working with the retailers is an important part of all of this. These are owner-managed businesses, many of which have firm roots in the local communities in which they operate so they know what works.
"A big part of the success is the entrepreneurship of the retailers and this is a critical part of being part of Spar, Mace or Londis. While we want to work with them to provide a really strong and compelling message, at the end of the day, we also want them to have the entrepreneurial spirit to succeed.
"From a marketing point of view, it is quite different to other marketing roles in terms of the major focus we put on our relationship with these retailers. We are essentially responsible for the marketing of family-owned businesses, some of which have been operating for generations. So, you always have to respect that and take on board their views when dealing with them and that's important.
"We also have a national marketing programme which we implement - again in partnership with the retailers - and we also have different marketing teams working across the different brands.
"But within these national marketing programmes, we would also work with individual retailers, particularly if they are facing a specific challenge in their local market."
How do you differentiate the retail proposition offered by each brand?
"Each of the brands has its own dedicated and distinctive marketing team and that's very important. There are lots of different aspects that are unique to each of the brands but they all have their individual brand positioning.
"We are lucky to have a ubiquitous presence right across the country with these brands and the fact that they are seen as leaders in their local communities makes them unique and different. The marketing teams eat, sleep and drink their own brands and they are passionate about them. There's even healthy competition amongst them. In retailing, ultimately we will be judged on the experience. There are more than one million shoppers visiting our stores on a daily basis but marketing also plays a big role and how we position the brands is important.
"In the case of Spar, the proposition is "Under the Tree at Spar" which has resonated really well with shoppers for a number of years while Mace, which has a strong forecourt and community presence, has "Going the Extra Smile" as its key proposition, reinforcing its strong customer service credentials and "Local Like You" is what Londis is all about."
With changing consumer lifestyles and shopping habits, how important is convenience element?
"Everyone wants to be in the convenience space in the industry but it's also a very competitive part of the retail sector. We are fortunate that our retailers account for around 40pc of the Irish convenience sector.
Ireland is a very competitive retail environment and everyone wants to be in our space. But ultimately, all of us, as shoppers, also want convenience shops in our local area and that's never going to change."
As we approach the busiest period of the year for the retail industry, where is the consumer mindset at the moment?
"It's very positive towards retail at the moment. Of course there will always be challenges and it is a hugely competitive market. Obviously what happens at both national and local level has an impact on the sector but the mindset at the moment is good and that's reflected in the recent performance of the sector in general."
"It's also important for retailers to constantly innovate and strive to offer customers something new and different all the time. If you can offer good choices, good value and a great experience, they will keep coming back. And that's one of the key reasons why our retailers have been so successful."
Sunday Indo Business