Community spirit

Celebrating 150 years of business in 2018, Radstock Co-op is a member owned co-operative retailer that is very much at the heart of the communities it serves in and around Somerset

If you were to go exploring the Somerset town of Radstock there is a chance that you may come across the Workingman’s Hall. It is within this building, back in 1868 that a preliminary meeting was held to establish Radstock Co-operative and Industrial Society. Now, 150 years on and still existing at the heart of the communities that it serves, the business remains one of only a few truly independent co-operative retailers, comprising of 19 convenience stores, a large supermarket and a 1000-acre dairy farm. “Radstock Co-op was formed by the community in order to serve the community and it is that ethos that continues to persevere within its DNA in 2018,” begins Chief Executive Officer, Don Morris.

In the decades that followed its inauguration, the co-operative steadily grew to incorporate several stores located in the surrounding area, for example in Peasedown St. John and Chew Magna, before the opening of the Radstock Superstore in 1959. At the same time, the offerings of the business began to diversify with the opening of a bakery and its dairy farm to deliver goods to not only its own stores, but those belonging to other societies. It was then not until 2008 that a period of rapid growth occurred for the co-operative, beginning with the opening of its first store in almost 40 years, in Shepton Mallet, and culminating with the opening of three new stores, in Warminster, Weston-super Mare and Bridgwater in the last 18 months.

Within said stores, the co-operative has been introducing its customers to an ever-widening range of products and services, bringing things like ATM’s, Costa Coffee Express units, and an increased offering on hot and cold produce to take away. “We have made small, but significant changes to the way we do things, such as baking little and often in our in-store bakeries to ensure that fresh goods are available throughout the day. We have also introduced a process we call ‘Fit For Four’, led by our Head of Retail Alan Jackson, which calls for all of our stores to be adequately stocked and ready for the evening trade,” Don explains.

These various efforts have certainly had a telling impact on Radstock Co-op, as Don goes on to detail. “Over the last ten years we have experienced remarkable growth for what is a relatively small business, doubling our turnover in that time and achieving at least ten per cent growth year-on-year as we have successfully reenergised the business by taking a 21st Century approach while still retaining some good, old-fashioned principles and values,” he enthuses. “In doing so we have almost tripled the number of stores we operate, including entering some unique environments such as a site that used to house a Little Chef restaurant, expanded our geographic range and introduced new technology such as our Loyalty Card Scheme. The result of these efforts has been an increase in membership from 5000 to 17,000 members in the last three years!”

While the business is very much geared for the future, it is clear that it has not lost touch with its heritage, something that has been celebrated in style in its 150th year. Among the many festivities to mark the occasion, the cooperative held a lavish, black-tie event at the Pavilion in Bath for its annual Gala Awards. In the company of Board Directors, local dignitaries, key suppliers and long-standing society members, Radstock Co-op took the opportunity to once again recognise and thank its employees for going the extra mile for it and its customers, while at the same time raising money for a variety of good causes.

Developing talent
Other ways that the society has marked the occasion include the release of a commemorative hardback book, which provides an honest, detailed assessment of Radstock Co-op’s history. The book was launched at an event at Radstock Museum, where there is also currently an exhibition of the society’s history running where various items of memorabilia can be seen on display. “Coinciding with our anniversary, Radstock Museum also played host to the annual Co-operative Consumer Council Meeting, meaning that, for 24 hours at least, Radstock and the local area was centre of the co-operative universe in the UK, which was a wonderful experience,” Don adds.

As the society now looks towards the future, its focus turns to both the nurturing of its talented people and the prospects for further expansion. In the case of the former, such has been the commitment of Radstock Co-op to its employees that it has recently been awarded with Silver Accreditation by the Investors in People group. “We believe this accreditation reflects the efforts we have made with a number of strategy streams to develop talent within our business,” Don states. “This has included the implementation of several trainee programmes and partnering with different colleges in the surrounding region to offer apprenticeships. We are also big believers in recognising existing talent within our organisation, which is why we actively encourage our colleagues to put themselves forward if they want to take on extra responsibilities or roles, and we will provide the necessary training and development to support them.”

Turning to the topic of what the immediate future holds for the society, Don is keen to go over both its plans for its flagship Superstore and its longer-term strategy. “We have gone public with our plans to redevelop the Radstock Superstore to create a purpose-built store fit for the 21st Century, with the site also incorporating office, retail and residential space. We have launched the Public Consultation locally and hope to be able to approach Bath and North East Somerset Council in the coming months with a firm planning application for this exciting development.

“Our growth strategy is what I would consider to be a sensible one, one that sees the co-operative looking to reinvest in its existing estate, while also looking for the best opportunities to add to our portfolio of stores which we want to ensure remain at the heart of the communities they operate within,” he concludes. “We try not to hold ourselves hostage to particular numbers when it comes to growing our estate, but as far as milestones go, reaching 30 stores is one I think we can confidently achieve and will go a long way to reaffirming Radstock Co-op’s place as a regional player in the industry.”