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Q&A: Jonathan James talks to Harpers about his new franchise venture of Conviviality Retail

Published:  24 April, 2015

Jonathan James, the convenience store expert who has taken on the franchise of 36 stores acquired by Conviviality Retail from GT News, talks to about his ambitious plans for the business.

Jonathan James, the convenience store expert who has taken on the franchise of 36 stores acquired by Conviviality Retail (CVR) from GT News, talks to about his ambitious plans for the business.

What are your plans for the new CVR stores that you are operating?

"We've taken over 36 stores formerly belonging to GT News, and have agreed with CVR to take that to 100 over the next five years. Now that growth will come from opportunities in the market - we are looking at the current opportunities in the areas we trade in - the East Midland and South Yorkshire - and infilling that organically. But my heartland is in East Anglia, which is where my other businesses are based, so I am keen to bring the offer there." 

How will the stores themselves change?

"We are using a number of fascias. Some of the GT stores for a number of reasons, can get alcohol licences, so we can't mention Bargain Booze, but some are going along the Select Convenience brand, so they will be Select Convenience by Bargain Booze and the Bargain Booze will be mentioned even though Select Convenience will be the primary one. A number have already gone across to Bargain Booze, and we are also going to continue with a number of CTN (confectionery, tobacco and news) stores so will continue to trade those as GT News. CVR bought the GT brand, and we therefore want to enhance that brand, especially in South Yorkshire where we can make a big thing of its heritage, as it was established in 1898.

"So we still trade under a number of different fascias, but in line with the franchise agreement we will fit out the stores in conjunction with the look and feel of Bargain Booze/ Select Convenience stores, and in accordance with the planograms of their offers.

"We will use also the Bargain Booze app, which is superb and we will offer click and collect, which will roll out as soon as possible. A number of our stores are very prominent, so they are ideally located for Click & collect. We haven't finalised the time frame, but it will be over the next year."

Bargain Booze AppBargain Booze App

How will the ranges change in store?

"Obviously we will be strengthening the off-license element and making sure there is a wide range. In the bigger stores we will be looking at enhancing the fresh and chilled offer, and putting in more chillers. But it will be on a store-buy-store basis, not a one size fits all solution. It will fits the size of store and the type - we have a number of transient transport hubs so we need to gear up for those customers, and some absolutely wonderful stores which are embedded at the heart of the community and these will be treated differently."

"We want to grow the stores that we trade in by range and by refit, but what we also want to do is to look at growth outside and have a template that is work in process that we can roll out to other stores.

"Before we will refit the stores, we will have customer panels inviting our customers to have an input into the look, feel and ranges. We have got that under way so won't try to second-guess what they want, but let them tell me. That is totally unheard of in the off-licences world. We've already started and will be refitting the thirty stores in the next 12 months - it's not a small project.

"We want to run customer panels three months ahead of the physical refit so we will invite them 2-3 months in advance and liaise with them to see what they think will be best for the stores. It is a tried and tested method at James Graven - we choose a good cross section of our customer base, but also ensure some aren't customers as there is no point preaching to the converted, as you want know what other people think and attract them eventually. And will also be rolling out our community chest as a way of thanking the panel - £500 or £1,000 (depending on the size of the store) which they take as custodians to give to charity and they chose who to give it to."   

Bargain BoozeBargain Booze/ Select Convenience store

You have a great deal of experience running convenience stores, how will you apply that to the new business?

"I am very keen on innovation and being at the cutting edge of all things new and we will be working alongside CVR to understand how we can innovate. It will be very much about off-license led convenience and any way we can help bring innovation to that party is something we will be doing."

"I also very much want to enhance the community aspect which is something we've always done, and heighten the message about responsible drinking. We will be working with schools and clubs involving youngsters and will get very embedded in the community we operate in and already getting that.

"I think responsible drinking is absolutely key. With Bargain Booze above the door, yes we are an alcohol retailer, but we are a responsible alcohol retailer. So it is absolutely our goal to work with schools and talk about it and the impact alcohol can have - and we'll be doing that very quickly."

Beyond the initial 36 stores, have you others in mind already?

"We already have a number of ideas - we have various property agents looking for sites. We are very acquisitive and I would be happy to look at all opportunity as they come up. And 100 stores is not a ceiling - it is what we've agreed to grow to within five years, but if that happens sooner and more stores become available that is what we'll do.

"We will definitely be creating jobs as a lot of the sites will be new to the industry and we will have to recruit accordingly. We now have 400 staff but expect that to double or even treble once we reach 100 stores."

Bargain Booze