A passionate and engaged workforce is The Southern Co-operative’s key point of difference, according to its COO Phil Ponsonby.
The retailer, which operates 206 food stores including 22 franchise stores, 47 fuel outlets, post offices plus two Starbucks coffee shops, is also focused on developing local business strategies, said Ponsonby.
“Our true point of differentiation is our engagement strategies,” he said.
Stocking local lines, for example, is “not just about sticking local products on the shelf with clever PoS”, he said. Instead, the retailer asks colleagues to take the products out into the community to events and fetes etc.
The Southern Co-operative also highlights the importance of Fairtrade and initiatives such as Think25 among its staff in order to “engender the belief in our workforce that we are different”.
Colleagues help out with local community projects such as clearing nature reserves too; while the company culture also focuses on how staff interact with customers on the shop floor.
“We also want them to be knowledgeable,” said Ponsonby; and he called on suppliers to help with teaching colleagues to create more of a point of difference at the front end. Ponsonby said the retailer also treated its store managers differently. “We treat them as professionals and empower them,” he said.
Store managers chair a committee of stakeholders at their stores to help decide on fundraising causes. They also take an active role in their communities.
“In the face of intensified competition, format development will not deliver a point of difference it’s about truly standing out from the crowd,” said Ponsonby.