Investing for business growth
Through partnering with Bank of Ireland in hosting several retail-centric events, including the all-important Grocery Management Awards (GMAs), ShelfLife has seen at first hand how Owen Clifford, head of retail convenience, puts his specific industry experience to good use. In this month’s issue, we decided to pick his brains on the bank’s ongoing support for independent retailers and the factors that help ensure a viable return on investment for SMEs
27 November 2018 | 0
A huge amount of excitement can surround the prospect of a store revamp, particularly when the layout incorporates glossy new concepts forming a veritable foodie’s paradise and stylish new designs. Likewise, expansion to new locations is often a goal many independent retailers have pondered for a long time before finally taking the plunge and finding a new site that ticks all the right boxes for their business. At such times, having the willing ear of your local bank manager can prove vital, not just in terms of securing finance, but also in gaining valuable expertise to ensure you are making a wise investment that will benefit your business in the long-term and lead to future continued growth. With that in mind, Gillian Hamill caught up with Owen Clifford, head of retail convenience at Bank of Ireland to learn more about the support the bank provides specifically for independent retailers.
GH: In the past year in particular, a huge amount of innovation has occurred within Ireland’s foodservice sector, through the development of new concepts within the deli, bakery and coffee/hot beverage segments. What are your observations on such developments and how important do you feel it is for retailers to keep abreast of these changes?
OC: Ireland’s convenience retailers are recognised internationally as thought-leaders in customer service and product innovation. The Irish consumer is extremely discerning and expects the highest standards on a consistent basis. At Bank of Ireland we recognise the importance of regular investment in store layout and offering to sustain footfall and ensure that customers are appropriately engaged. As Jeff Bezos from Amazon said: “Yesterday’s wow very quickly becomes today’s ordinary.” As well as engaging new and existing customers, innovation and investment in-store is important to attract, engage and retain key staff. In a competitive employment environment, employees are seeking retailers who offer a modern, evolving working environment. In Bank of Ireland we are delighted to work closely with our retail customers on their store revamp plans; pre-planning, launch/execution and monitoring results post same. We provide retailers with both national and international focused insights on store offerings, layouts and strategy that have worked well opposite different consumer cohorts. We work closely with Irish retailers to ensure their stores reflect the values and visions of their communities.
In practical terms, if a retailer wanted to secure a loan for a significant project such as an in-store renovation, what factors would they have to show Bank of Ireland to demonstrate it would be a wise investment?
In Bank of Ireland, we strive to build longstanding relationships with our customers. In recent years, we have supported numerous retailers in refinancing their debt opposite banks exiting the Irish market and subsequently funded a significant revamp of their stores. We recognise that regular investment is required to ensure that standards are maintained, customers remain engaged and businesses are future-proofed. We are extremely cognisant that this investment needs to deliver an appropriate return on investment for the retailer and therefore needs to be underpinned by a robust, holistic business plan. A significant revamp should aim to facilitate a growth in sales, an improvement in sales mix, a more efficient cost base and ultimately an improvement in store margin and profitability. We would expect a revamp business plan to reflect engagement between the retailer and their customers (customer feedback/panel), staff (key in a successful implementation of the revamp plan) and brand partners/wholesaler (if applicable). It should also outline the strategy pre-revamp, during the revamp and post revamp to ensure that the maximum return is delivered from this significant investment. A clear, concise strategy ensures that a revamp does not fall within ‘the catch-all’ trap but is focused, targeted and a reflection of the requirements of an individual retailer’s customer base. We are always available to discuss revamp plans with individual retailers and to support their overall business ambition.
Bank of Ireland earlier this year announced an investment of €1.7 million in communities nationwide through the Bank of Ireland Enterprise Programme 2018. What positive differences has this initiative made to villages, towns and urban areas across the country?
Our Enterprise Programme, which has been active since 2013, aims to stimulate the local economy by supporting businesses and communities across Ireland to grow and thrive. Initiatives focus on providing support to ensure towns, villages and urban areas across the country recognise and reach their potential. We recently held our 19th National Enterprise Week around the theme of ‘Investing for Business Growth’ and hosted events in 25 counties nationwide to help SMEs shape the best investment strategy for their business. These events provided SMEs from various sectors and industries with key insights and expertise. Our Bank of Ireland National Enterprise Town Awards are a nationwide search to find Ireland’s most enterprising community. SMEs, startups and community organisations are a significant driver of the country’s success and spirit and this competition is the bank’s way of recognising the efforts being made locally and to provide a platform to showcase the very best. In addition to a significant monetary investment, a huge amount of work is done to create a programme of activity that supports the evolving needs of SMEs and community groups which has a positive impact on local economies right across the country.
How does the team at Bank of Ireland work to ensure that it understands the ongoing daily needs of retailers, including understanding categories and expectations?
As a strong advocate for Irish retail SMEs and their pivotal role in the Irish economy, the bank’s guiding principle is to ensure we are listening, engaging and delivering for our retail customers on a consistent basis. In my role as head of retail convenience, I have visited over 250 retailers across 26 counties in the past two years and the feedback received during these meetings has been incredibly helpful. This direct customer input has ensured that the bank’s offerings are appropriately tailored and adapted to the needs of the Irish retail community. In addition, we organise numerous retail-focused workshops nationwide on an annual basis which enable our customers to network with other retailers. This also ensures we continue to receive feedback from our customers in relation to ongoing needs and requirements. In recent years, we have provided funding of over €100m annually to independent, family-owned Irish retailers with more than 70% going to retailers based outside of Dublin. This demonstrates our bona-fides as a real national bank in this sector. I liaise regularly with recognised international experts in the sector to ensure I am abreast of evolving trends and developments globally that resonate and are applicable to the Irish market.
How can Bank of Ireland facilitate retailers to grow their businesses over the coming years in a sustainable fashion?
As Ireland’s leading business bank, we recognise that we have a unique opportunity to support our customers and to enable Irish businesses and the communities we jointly serve to thrive. Our proven financial capabilities and appetite, combined with comprehensive sector expertise, provide us with a strong platform to meet the funding requirements of Irish retailers. We understand the investment cycle, including the need for regular expenditure to maintain growth and profitability in this dynamic sector, and we have a strong appetite to support progressive, innovative retailers in the further development of their businesses in the coming years. We are available to discuss succession planning strategies, store portfolio expansion, employee retention initiatives and long-term funding requirements. We provide our customers with key insights in respect of store KPI benchmarks and our revamp focused funding has facilitated retailers in growing sales by 5%-10% and gross margin by 0.5%-1% at a minimum in recent years. We will continue to act as an advocate, sounding board and proactive partner for Irish retailers in the development of long-term sustainable business models.
The FMCG convenience retail sector is fast-moving and competitive, experiencing particular challenges from the growth of the discounters in recent years. How can Bank of Ireland support retailers in a consistent fashion and help them offer something unique within their area?
At Bank of Ireland, we strive to support Irish convenience retailers to deliver a topclass retail experience that reflects the needs and requirements of their customers and communities. We have supported numerous retailers in developing sustainable strategies aimed at protecting their business from increased competition. These strategies have been wide-ranging, from mobilisation of customer engagement panels, staff training initiatives, large scale investment in-store and re-alignment of product/service offering. Our proactive support has enabled the retailers to protect and grow their business in equal measure.
We are extremely conscious that a ‘one-sizefits all’ model is not appropriate to meet the expectations of the discerning Irish consumer and that a bespoke approach is needed for every store revamp. Over the past 12 months, we have been delighted to support excellent, progressive retailers such as the H2 Group in developing market leading forecourt stores nationwide and Des and Martha Cosgrave in Sligo in creating the next generation of neighbourhood convenience store. We have supported retailers from Donegal to West Cork and from Cavan to Wexford in delivering a world-class offering for their customers and communities. We look forward to continuing this proactive support of the Irish convenience sector, enabling this key area of the Irish economy and social fabric to thrive and prosper into the future.
Owen Clifford has been head of retail convenience within Bank of Ireland since 2015. He is responsible for the continuing development of the bank’s growth strategy in this key area and has actively supported leading retailers and stakeholders in the sector to grow and develop their business in a sustainable manner. Clifford has brought extensive industry knowledge and experience to this role, having worked in the retail sector with Musgrave Retail Partners Ireland where his role involved supporting independent retailers to maximise their profitability and to develop long-term, sustainable business models. During this time, he built up a significant knowledge base, and a network of connections with expertise, in the areas of finance, operations and legal/ regulatory requirements specific to the retail convenience sector. He holds a first class honours degree in Law and Accounting from the University of Limerick and is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants Ireland and an associate of the Irish Taxation Institute. He previously held roles with PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte.