There is a future for independant retailers …


East London, the home of notorious gangsters, England football captains (Beckham & Kane) Boy bands (East17), The Olympic Stadium and Europe’s largest urban wetlands , now includes two step brothers who are  creating (at least I think) one of the most innovative Independant Retail models in the U.K.

The main Walthamstow store combines everyday convenience products with Eat17’s bakery, patisserie, restaurant and locally produced ready meals. The Bishop’s Stortford site includes a street food market where space is rented out to third parties. It includes a fishmonger and a florist with a barber and a tattooist to come for those who crave something different with their pint of milk. The Hackney site has a working Art Deco cinema and a trade kitchen.

They currently have four stores with another two planned for 2018. No two shops are alike. Yet they have not completely thrown the ‘ baby out’ with the bath water as they are members of the Spar buying Group.I have only been into one of their stores (Walthamstow) and suggest it is unlike any other Spar you will have been in.

We have also eaten in the restaurant , by no means easy, because of its popularity.

They have created a retail concept that is unique, in the purest meaning of the word. It would be very hard, if not impossible for a large chain to replicate. They are the first to admit it has not been easy getting there and they believe ten stores are their maximum.

Not satisfied with all that it is involved with such a complex project they have created an additional revenue stream. Some of the products for sale in the shop are their own creations which they are selling to other retailers (e.g ‘Eat17 Bacon Jam’ which is sold in Waitrose) providing an alternative income stream and reinforcing their brand.

All this has be done since 2006, when they opened their first store. Furthermore , they have done this during the worst financial crisis in modern history and the during the most turbulent retail environment within the last forty years, yet with very little retail experience of their own.

I believe they have developed a retail concept which is

  • innovative
  • creative
  • provides high service levels
  • understanding and meeting the needs of the  individual local market place
  • unique product
  • alternative revenue streams

None of this has been achieved by sacrificing margin. They don’t compete with discounters and make no pretence to do so.

Here are some of the awards they have won in recent years (from their own web site)

  • The Grocer Magazine’s Best Store in the UK 2012
  • Finalists for Best Store in the World 2013
  • The Good Food Guide 2015
  • Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence 2014
  • Time Out Love London Award Winner 2015
  • Shortlisted for Best Newcomer in Food & Drink Observer Food Monthly Awards 2014
  • Nominated in both Producer and Retailer categories 2014 Urban Food Award
  • Voted favourite local restaurant by Gary Lee (Head Chef, The Ivy) London Foodie Guide, 2013

It is not a panacea of all retail ills. But it is a bloody good footprint for good independents in all sectors to look and examine how it could be translated to work in their own markets.

Eat17 are not alone. The Ginger Pig butcher shop chain ( eight I think) , the brainchild of a farmer and near bankrupt proper developer (Yorkshireman this time), again with no retail experience. Yet have developed, expanded and succeeded within the same turbulent times. There will be others, but what I find interesting and I believe significant is that neither of these two models were created by those who had any experience within the traditional retail market. I am not suggesting that the only future for independent retailers is for those who do not have any retail experience. But I do firmly believe that an independent retailer will only have a successful future if they look beyond the traditional model.

Ps…(for those who are interested)

Walthamstow Dogs image at the top , sadly (not quite sure why I say that . I have been about half a dozen times and won sod all, so I am not that sad) only the facade exists , behind which is a housing development. The owners – the Chandler Family (of Walthamstow Dogs) sold up some time ago. One of the family members is Victor Chandler who created one of the first online betting operations ‘BetVictor’ so another East end boy ‘done’ good.

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