Proactive Approach: Q&A with Jim Barry

  • How has Covid-19 affected Costcutter stores and what are the key lessons you have taken away from this challenging time?

While some of our retail partners were impacted by Covid 19, the majority performed well during this challenging period. City centre stores were impacted the most as footfall decreased drastically in these areas, but to date all are still trading. In the initial lockdown, forecourts were also affected but these cohort of our estate have recovered to a level where they are trading at normal levels, and some have exceeded pre Covid 19 levels of business. I believe that this is a direct impact of the combination of Barry Group’s positive response to the pandemic, the challenges it threw at the trade, along with the proactive actions our retailers took. So much so, we have seen brand sentiment increased over the past 6 months. This is a true testament to the collective approach that was employed to protect the Costcutter brand and our estate. I am proud to say that we served our customers really well during what was a most challenging period.

Regarding lessons, I don’t believe that Covid 19 thought us something new or brought around changes, but rather than it accelerated the change that was already happening within our business and in the industry. For us, the key thing that was highlighted was the importance of the Barry Group mindset. Every Costcutter retail outlet is different and deserves to be serviced in a way that maximises the opportunity in that store. In essence, I think the importance of customer care and focus was highlighted more than ever over the past 6 months.

  • How did the planning you undertook for a Covid-19 and recessionary approach, enable you to deal with the challenges that confronted your industry?

The first thing we did was devote the time of our senior team members. This group formed our Covid-19 Response Team who today, still meet twice a week. This team were tasked with highlighting the risks that could potentially occur as a result of this pandemic and then mitigate those risks in every possible way. This approach to identifying risk evaluated key components of our business including the operations of our warehouse, our wholesale business and the risk facing our retail partners. By identifying this risk, it gave us great clarity in developing our plans to ensure both Barry Group and our retail partners would get through what I would identify of one of the most challenging periods in my career, and ensure that our customers were still serviced with our recognised high levels of customer service. Today, this team is still continually identifying risk and irradiating their effects.  

From the outset, we had also identified the risk of an exogenous recession. Considering that this recession was a result of a global pandemic we immediately commenced researching how this could possibly differ from an economic recession and formulated our plans. A multi-disciplinary team was also appointed to evaluate this from all aspects of our business to firstly ensure that we would remain profitable during the recession, and secondly exit it in a place of brand strength. This plan encompassed a Barry Group approach and also a plan for our retail partners.

  • With significant growth generated within the off-licence channel, how did Carry Out manage to cope with the increased workload?

Our Carry Out retail partners are professional and dedicated retailers who take great pride in providing responsible retail standards for their customer base. Although the challenges brought around by Covid 19 were significant, a combination of extra deliveries facilitated by our logistics team, the support from our Carry Out Account Management Team and sheer hard work were essential to support the demand facing the doors of Carry Out’s nationwide. At store level, our retail partners worked tirelessly to maintain standards and equip their teams with the relevant training, skills and knowledge to deliver a solid service experience to our customers.

  • How has your independent channel performed during the past year? Have you been able to respond quickly to market demand and changes within the sector?

Our Independent Channel has grown significantly this year, with our extensive alcohol offering being a key asset to our customer base. During the initial lockdown, we were recognised for our agile response and our corporative nature was valued. However, this comes down to our team servicing this element of our business. It is because of their adaptability that we were able to respond to meet our customers needs.  Our Independent Wholesale Channel has performed very well this year because we had the ability to switch up our capacity.

However, we did not do this alone. Our suppliers have to be recognised for their responsiveness to our Buying Team who managed to secure large volumes of products that other wholesalers seemed to struggle with. We were able to service our normal customers as well as help our new customers who were struggling to get stock from their normal sources.

  • What growth/innovation do you have in the pipeline for 2021?

While there are many challenges looming in 2021, including Brexit, a recession and Covid 19, we will enter the year with optimism. We will open 15 new Costcutter stores, 10 new Quik Picks and 10 Carry Out Off Licences. Additionally, we will be adding to our suite of concepts in February to accompany the already successful Urban Sips, Freezi Licks, Market St. Deli and The Salad Patch.

It is also important to identify with the learnings and improvement opportunities that were identified this year as a result of Covid 19. Although a large proportion of these have been accomplished improving our business offering, there are some which we have planned to address in 2021.  

  • How concerned are you about the current Brexit developments and the implications for Ireland’s food and drink sector?

Brexit undoubtedly causes concern for all businesses on the island of Ireland. The lack of clarity of what type of deal will be reached impacts the time that we have to plan, which poses challenges itself outside of the enormity of Brexit.  However, I am hopeful a deal will be struck where we won’t have tariffs to deal with. If this is the case, it will be presented in the form of a basic deal. We have invested a lot of time in planning for all possible outcomes, so we have plans in place to deal with all customer challenges that may arise. It is important that we meet whatever challenge may lay ahead, head on and come out the other end stronger and welcome new opportunities.

  • Following an unprecedented year for Ireland’s grocery and wholesale trade, how would you describe your outlook as we head into 2021?

While 2020 was challenging in many ways, I believe that we as a team are in a positive place to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Many lessons were learned this year and as a business, we showed how adaptable we are. The improvements that we have put in place, along with the dedication and perseverance of our management team, supported by the willingness of our team members gives me great optimism for Barry Group in 2021. I expect us to outperform the market, and build on our strong service ethic to our valued customers.

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