New Radstock chief gears up for Tesco fight

Mergers may be seen as the only way forward by some in the Co-operative Movement. However, at least one society is resolved to stay independent for the foreseeable...

Mergers may be seen as the only way forward by some in the Co-operative Movement. However, at least one society is resolved to stay independent for the foreseeable future. 

Founded in 1868, Radstock Co-op is a fiercely proud society with real roots in its largely rural community. 

The society has never fought shy of seeking help though, most recently from Midcounties, which offered skills and expertise in a refurbishment programme. To further realise its independent aim the society recently appointed Alan Bonner as its Chief Executive.

Alan comes to the demanding role with extensive retail experience, having spent some 30-odd years within Sainsburys, working his way up through the ranks in a variety of capacities to attain a position as a senior executive manager.

Born in a grocer’s shop 56 years ago, Alan is the third generation of his family to spend his life in the retail business. And he firmly believes in the values and principles of the Movement. So why is Radstock intent on staying firmly independent? 

He says: “We wish to remain independent while it remains in the interests of our members to do so.”

In the months ahead, Alan hopes to raise awareness within all the stakeholder groups that have an interest in the society.

“It is important to understand the strategy and that our agreed vision for the future is as the best community retailer in the area, considering our Co-op values in everything we do,” he said.

Radstock’s core aim is to offer the public top quality convenience stores offering a range right across the spectrum from top quality ready meals to fresh, local produce. 

The society has five convenience stores, one bigger supermarket in Radstock itself, and a furniture store. Its geographical area is within a 12-mile radius of Bath. 

A major bonus for the society is that it has its own organic dairy farm at Hardington.

Alan says: “It’s a real jewel in our crown to have such an asset and we intend to exploit it to the full. At the moment, the farm concentrates on organic milk and cheese, but we are looking at all the possibilities. It is a unique opportunity and an advantage which we have over our high street competitors.”

 With a turnover of £15 million, Alan agrees there is plenty of room for the society to expand: “We are definitely looking to grow the business. Since I have been here I have produced a strategy document with several proposals for activity in the months ahead. For example, we need to improve our supermarket store, which needs refurbishment. We also need to extend the estate and facilities as well as our image with the wider public.” 

There are also plans in the pipeline to engage more with the 7,500 society members by communicating regularly. 

Another major priority for the new CEO is improving links with the local community.

“I want us to serve the community more. We need to establish an agenda for education, support our local schools and help them understand the retail agenda, ensuring our assets are used to best serve our members and local people.” 

For most of his life Alan has been based in Hertfordshire but now plans to move with wife Megan to the cathedral city of Wells. They have four grown-up sons.

He heads up a newly-formed senior management team, which is equipped with the skills, knowledge and experience to prepare the business for growth — and its avowed aim is to remain a truly independent society. 

Alan is supported by Clare Coles, Chief Financial Officer and Secretary, Vicki Przytocki, Head of Human Resources and Albert Moulder, Head of Operations.

A major project in the immediate future is taking on Tesco, following a successful planning bid to open a ‘Tesco Express’ just 30 yards from one of Radstock’s stores.

“One option would be to wait and see what impact they have and come out fighting but we need to be better prepared than that. I believe that the range and quality of Co-op goods is every bit as good as Tesco’s. Our store is slightly larger and we are in a first-class state to take Tesco on. 

“The battleground will be customer service. This society has an extremely good customer service ethic and a great track record, so we need to ensure the impact of Tesco is minimal. I’m sure we can do that. 

“We don’t intend to lie down and be trodden on. We are confident that we can ride the storm, given our strong community focus and loyal customer base.

“We put a lot of faith in our colleagues to provide a superior customer experience that exceeds customers’ expectations and that, combined with several exciting projects which we have in the pipeline, will win our customers over in the end.”

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