Jim Barry, Barry Group
Jim Barry is always in a positive mood; in fact he says it’s a prerequisite for a career in the retail industry. Looking back over the past number of years you can understand why.
The retail sector is still a tough place to be in and anyone that has come through the recession intact is doing a fantastic job. Consumer confidence still has a way to return to pre-2008 levels and the banks are still not lending enough money for many independent retailers to drive their businesses forward.
In the couple of years since Jim spoke to IFCR, the retail landscape has changed immeasurably but the Barry Group has certainly invested and adapted to remain as a leading force in wholesale food and alcohol distribution and a major player in the wholesale/retail markets.
“Business has been difficult for the past two or three years and we as a company have held out own which we have been very happy with,” explained Jim, speaking from the company’s state-of-the-art headquarters in Mallow, Co Cork.
“Ultimately the convenience sector has had it very difficult in Ireland but we have certainly worked very hard responding to our customers’ needs, we have definitely improved their offering enormously and we are happy where the business is now.”
As with any tough trading period, new challenges have encouraged the Barry Group to revaluate and reassess its operations in order to continue providing the best possible service. The past nine months have witnessed a complete overhaul of operations at every level within the business and Jim is confident that the Barry Group is now in a stronger position to move forward.
“We have literally changed everything we do, operationally and logistically,” he said.
“It’s about taking the business to a new level again. It’s akin to lifting the bonnet, taking out the engine and put it back together in a much better fashion. It’s about raising the bar as new challenges present themselves.
“Whenever business is tough is goes without saying that the market becomes more competitive as more people are fighting for a smaller slice of the cake. This drives the need for businesses to reinvent themselves; it’s all about how you respond to these challenges.”
He added: “Retailers will have noticed improvements in our buying and selling approach and we have made positive changes in every area of the business. We scrutinised all aspects of the business in order to continue offering the high level of service our customers expect. Looking at the market, it is not going to get any easier but we are now very confident in our ability over the next 12 months.”
This year has started well for the Barry Group with recruitment in both Costcutter and Carry Out increasing.
The Costcutter estate now extends to around 100 stores with a quarter of them on forecourts. The Carry Out franchise is performing very well too with 17 new outlets added in 2013 and the same is planned for 2014 with more than 90 stores branded by the end of the year.
“The overall market is not going to improve hugely but early indications tell us that 2014 will be a strong year for us,” enthused Jim.
“Back in 2011 when we acquired the Carry Out franchise, we had very ambitious plans and we probably thought we were nearing the end of the recession at that time, which obviously didn’t prove correct. However last year we added more new Carry Outs. It has been a great success for us.”
The discount sector flourished in 2010 and Barry Group entered the market with its BuyLo concept to take advantage of the consumer demand for value. Branded grocery and household products at discount prices was the model and Barry Group opened a number of stores across the country.
Since the launch, the discount sector became extremely competitive with Lidl and Aldi increasing market share plus new entrants into the sector such as Dealz. This has all had an impact on the BuyLo operation.
“BuyLo hasn’t gone as well as we had expected,” admitted Jim.
“The discount market has become a lot more crowded over the years. When we started out with BuyLo you didn’t have Dealz and the German discounters were in their early days. We are probably six years into a price war now and the harsh reality is that BuyLo has not worked to the level that we would have hoped.”
Jim acknowledges that the wider retail sector is still a tough place to do business, whilst city areas have seen some improvements, he says that rural areas are still suffering and retailers have to rethink their approach.
“The market in the South is still tough. It’s down to retailers to up their own personal bar and their own standards as it is not an expanding market. The very good operators who do a good job, invest and innovate will come through strong. Bank lending is still quite tight but there is a big push on the Government to tackle the problem of finance for businesses, hopefully this will help.”
Independents are promoting their businesses in cost-effective ways and the use of social media is almost a given these days. There doesn’t seem to be a retailer in the land who doesn’t have a Facebook page and this is something the Barry Group has embraced – with Carry Out leading the way.
Social media is a big part of our agenda,” said Jim.
“The Carry Out Group is hugely successful in this area. We hold regular training sessions for our customers to up their skills in this area and we are pushing our Costcutter customers too.”
Looking ahead to the next 12 months, the changes implemented by the Barry Group will no doubt help the business move forward and rise to any further market challenges.
“We have been trying to achieve complete operational excellence and we have been working towards this for past nine months. We are now operating at a higher standard compared to previous years, even though we were as good as any of our competitors in the past.
He added: “We ultimately want to be great in all we do and have made significant changes to achieve that.”