Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Two newspaper articles about Castle Douglas and Tesco

The Times 9 October 2009

Tom Maxwell
They called it the Tesco effect, and for most small towns in Scotland it came accompanied by doom-laden warnings of empty high streets and bankrupt shops. The inexorable advance of the superstore would, it was confidently predicted, wipe out small businesses and suck the lifeblood from local economies.
This week, as Tesco announced profits of more than £3 billion, The Times carried out its own survey of towns which have experienced the Tesco effect. We asked local traders who fought — and mainly lost — the battle to resist the advance of the superstore, what the long-term effect had been.
The results suggest that some Scottish towns have managed to stage a fightback, raising their game to counteract the Tesco impact, developing more specialised shops, and even using the extra customers drawn into the town to start ambitious regeneration plans. The fact that they seem to be weathering the storm, not only of Tesco, but the recession, suggests that Scottish entrepreneurialism may not be entirely dead.
North Berwick is typical. The East Lothian town staged a high-profile anti-Tesco campaign in 2007, with Pinbat (People in North Berwick against Tesco) vehemently arguing that a new superstore would suck money out of the centre of the seaside town.
This week, however, Gregor Murray, the chief executive of the Midlothian and East Lothian Chamber of Commerce, said that, rather than retreating in the face of the Tesco effect, retailers have “risen to the challenge” of the supermarket.
“A lot of the quality shops, such as the butcher’s, have done well,” he explained. “There is a greater focus now on providing good quality and personal service.”
Pat Burton, chair of the local community council, says that North Berwick’s high street remains "vibrant", saying that customers have "stayed loyal" to the butchers, delicatessen and fish shop.
She said, because the town now had a Tesco of its own, the residents who had been driving to Haddington were able to stay and do their shopping in North Berwick.
Over in Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbrightshire, fears were voiced that Scotland’s only designated Food Town would be hit hard by the arrival of a Tesco superstore in 2006. Alistair Livingston, who was behind the Save Our Shops campaign in the town, said that Castle Douglas had been affected, but not in the way he imagined.
After Tesco opened its doors, the Co-op closed its existing town centre branch and built a smaller store near by. The site it had vacated is now occupied by a branch of the household goods store Wilkinson.
“More people were worried about Wilkinson opening up than they were about Tesco,” explained Mr Livingston. “They felt its range of products was more damaging and a chamber of trade was set up in response. That has gone a bit quiet again, but you can see that, in response to Tesco, butchers are making a much bigger play on the fact that they are using local produce. While they once sold just meat, they are now showing greater initiative and are branching out into things such as ready-made meals that you can put in a pan. They have to work a bit harder." He said that local traders had proved resilient in the face of the superstore challenge. “As quickly as one shop closes, another opens in its place,” he said, adding: “There are no big, empty spaces in the town.”
The key to the town’s relative success lay in the planning stage when limits were placed on what Tesco could do. The superstore had planned to have a butcher’s, café and petrol station — all of which they were denied. They were also limited to just 15 per cent non-food floorspace (this is low — nearby Lockerbie’s Tesco has 33 per cent non-food floorspace).
"If it’s a battle over food sales only then the butchers and other food traders in the town can compete, but if it's a question of Tesco selling clothing and televisions then local shops can’t compete," he concluded.
That is not the case in the Perthshire town of Blairgowrie, where Tesco was given a free run in 2005, relocating from a small store in the town centre to a massive superstore on the outskirts, a move which one trader described as having “decimated” the local shops.
In response, local business people have established the Blairgowrie and Rattray Regeneration Company. “We are hitting back in a big way,” said chairman Colin Stewart. The company, which has received a £1.5 million grant from the Scottish government Town Centre Regeneration Fund, is exploring the possibility of locating a screw turbine in the River Ericht, from which it hopes to generate £40,000 per year to sell to the National Grid. It also hopes to build a “world-class, state-of-the-art” visitor centre, said Mr Stewart, with the long-term aim of attracting an extra 60,000 to 70,000 visitors per year to the town. “The important thing is that everybody is working together,” he added.
The same cannot be said of Dumfries. Rab Smith, chairman of the Dumfries Retailers Association, says that there are now 54 empty buildings in the town, compared to 25 when Tesco opened the first of its two out-of-town superstores five years ago. With the subsequent openings of a Tesco convenience shop and, in June this year, a second retail park superstore, Mr Smith said that independent Dumfries shop owners have been “absolutely slammed”.
“Most little towns in Scotland are not built for traffic and easy parking,” he said. “Then a Tesco goes out of town, close to the bypass and offers 2,000 parking spaces free of charge, while selling everything your town sells for less ... it’s almost an impossible situation.”
The same seems to be true of Galashiels, where opposition to Tesco took the form of public meetings and angry protest. A local farmer, Tom Douglas, made his feelings abundantly clear when he displayed a 40-foot-long sign saying “Tesco sucks” on a hill overlooking Galashiels town centre. But the campaign failed, and the town’s Tesco superstore, which was extended in 2006, now occupies the site of what had once been an Edwardian textiles college. A member of the Borders Heritage at Risk campaign, Mr Douglas said: “Tesco bulldozed what is a memorial to the working men of Gala as if it were a thorn in their flesh.”
Alan Dickson, a director of the Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce, said: “There’s no denying that the high street is in a poor state and Tesco and Asda are not helping. Independent retailers should take on the supermarkets in their own way by giving good customer service and be good at what they’re selling. Supermarkets are part of society now and we’ve got to live with it ... but only to a point.”
The conclusion seems to be that, if communities get together to fight the Tesco effect, then they can use it to boost the profile and the wealth of their local town. But if they stand back and hope for the best, the superstore will steamroller hopes, ambitions, and a large slice of the local economy.
In June 2005 :
– there were 132 businesses trading in Castle Douglas town centre, of which 75 (57%) were shops.
– there were two vacant premises; a cafe and a charity shop.
– of the 75 shops, 30 (40%) had begun trading or changed ownership since 2000.
In February 2009:
– there were 127 business trading in Castle Douglas town centre, of which 67 (53%) were shops.
– there are now seven vacant premises.
– there has been an overall loss of 5 (4%) businesses since June 2005.
– there has been an overall loss of 8 (11%) of shops since June 2005. These include recent (2009) closure of Woolworths, a fishmongers and Victoria Wine
The supermarket is Scotland’s biggest retailer and largest private sector employer, with 140 stores employing more than 26,000 staff.
It also has 13 branches of Dobbies Garden Centres in Scotland.
The supermarket works with more than 150 Scottish producers and in the past year has started more than 115 new lines from local Scottish suppliers.
In total, Scottish suppliers provide more than 1,500 lines worth £2.1 billion sales per year in UK stores.
Tesco claims to be on target to deliver 1,500 new jobs in Scotland in 2009.

When the original planning application for a Tesco supermarket in Scotland’s first Food Town became public in 2004, there was a flood of angst-ridden comment from residents and local politicians alike.
Cate Devine Published on 10 Nov 2009
They feared that Castle Douglas’s unique designation would be shattered, and its tourist trade along with it.
“This will reduce Castle Douglas to just another run-down rural market town,” they said. “It will destroy the local high-quality retailers and producers for which the town is renowned. There is no need for this Tesco..”
Nevertheless, a medium-sized Tesco store opened in the Galloway town in 2006. Three years on, an uneasy alliance prevails – even if the first sight to greet visitors entering the town, which got its designation as Scotland’s first Food Town in 2002, is a sign saying: “Welcome to Tesco.”
On the face of it, the one-street town is still thriving: there are four butchers, two bakers, one greengrocer, three delicatessens, a sweetie shop and several cafes dotted down the historic thoroughfare of King Street. Every Tuesday and Friday, there
is Wyllie McCulloch’s fresh fish stall Ferry Fish, which has been in the same spot for 25 years selling wild sea bass, North Sea haddock and west coast scallops, lobster and monkfish straight from the boats fishing the waters off Whithorn.
Mr McCulloch and his wife Linda sell all over Wigtownshire, and on the day we visited there were queues down the street.
At Tesco, on the other hand, there is relatively little local produce on sale except for bakery goods by Irvings of Castle Douglas. “Locally sourced” carrots actually come from Turriff in Aberdeenshire, a reflection of the multiple’s definition of local. There is no fresh meat or wet fish counter, and no cafe.
“Tesco’s arrival in Castle Douglas hasn’t really affected us, although it did force us to reinvent ourselves,” says Mr McCulloch cheerfully. “When Tesco and Morrisons opened in Stranraer, and then Sainsbury’s in Newton Stewart, that made us stand up. When Tesco arrived here we thought to ourselves, how can we fight these fellows? Now we hand-fillet and bone all our fish, we shout about its provenance, and we’ve put logos on our van. The extra effort has paid dividends for us.”
He believes that Tesco has attracted more people to stay in the town to do their shopping, and is also optimistic that he will see off competition from the new Tesco store planned for Kirkcudbright. “There is still a clientele out there who want personal service and high-quality local food.”
The reason Castle Douglas survives as a Food Town is down to a successful collaboration between Dumfries & Galloway Council and the local businesses, says Steve Groome of Castle Douglas Food Town Initiative. “We worked very hard with the council to ensure Tesco wouldn’t have a fresh meat or fresh fish counter in order to safeguard the town’s unique shopping experience and to protect the independents, because they are what make Castle Douglas the town it is. Tesco has not hurt us as much as people thought it would.”
At Sunrise Wholefoods, however, Pauline Tilbury admits that business dropped by 20% in the first week of Tesco’s arrival, and has not fully recovered. She told The Herald: “The Co-operative store that used to be situated halfway down the main street moved to smaller premises much further down the hill when Tesco arrived. This has affected footfall in the shops in the immediate area.”
When a member of staff left, Ms Tilbury was unable to afford to replace her and in order to cut costs further she had to stop renewing her organic certification for the shop, which was costing £1000 a year. So although all her produce is certified organic, she is not allowed to advertise it as such.
She says Tesco stocked the same gluten-free and other specialist dietary products she did when it first opened. Tourists who would come in to stock up on health foods for their week’s holiday, now go to Tesco.
So she has started new lines and is now selling meat from her own smallholding, in addition to local eggs and a small selection of locally produced soft cheeses – not just the ubiquitous Lockerbie cheddar sold at Tesco.
She remains upbeat, however: “I’m lucky because the wholefood shops in Newton Stewart and Dumfries both went bust after the multiples arrived there, so I’m doing alright – as long as Castle Douglas retains its food town brand.”
Local farmer Jimmy Craig, who has owned the 19th-century Ballard Butchers shop for 12 years, also says the multiple’s presence has ultimately helped his business.
“I’ve changed what I’m doing. I’m trying to do more modern stuff like marinaded beef for stir-fries, different flavoured sausages and different types of pies, because that’s what Tesco does. You’re always looking at ways to stay in front. But traditional fare such as beef and lamb from my own farm remain bestsellers. People always want local.”
Fresh seasonal rabbit and partridge, pheasant and mallard, and traditional haggis bungs also cram his window. Business actually went up after Tesco arrived, though it has steadied up now due to the recession. “It’s not too bad at the moment. We’re not over-supermarketed here, but then Tesco was forced to downsize from their original plans, so they’re perhaps not as much of a threat as they might have been.”
Behind the idyllic appearance, however, there are signs of unease. The two Corsons bakers’ shops have been up for sale for about a year, and Mitchells the greengrocers is also on the market. An empty shop unit that for 15 years was the home of Dee Fishmongers has been To Let for months.
The petrol station at the bottom of King Street was recently put up for sale, and the tyre centre adjacent to the Tesco store has also closed.
Mr Groome says, however, that the shop closures are due to retirement rather than competition from Tesco, and another bakery is poised to purchase Corsons. He points out that Tommy Little’s long-standing pork butcher business was recently taken over by a young couple.
Tesco resubmitted its original planning application for a petrol station in 2008, but it was again rejected by Dumfries & Galloway council last August on the grounds that “the development would materially detract from the character and amenity of the area”.
However, now that the town’s only petrol station has closed, could the situation change? After all, the Tesco site has room for expansion.
A spokesman for Dumfries & Galloway Council said: “If Tesco wanted to pursue a filling station in Castle Douglas, it would need to submit a new application. The original application was refused on landscaping grounds, it wasn’t related to competition. Any new application would need to address the same landscaping issues.”
Asked if Tesco would be allowed to expand its existing store, the council spokesman said he was unable to answer that question because to do so “would prejudice any future planning application”.
Despite Castle Douglas’s relatively good news story, there is anxiety about the future. “Is something afoot that we don’t know about?” wondered an elderly local couple, who declined to be named.
“We worry that Tesco are going to apply to extend the store. That really would change everything.”