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Co-op makes changes after meeting

Regional Manager sends his report of meeting to the HebWeb

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Please find detailed below a summary and outputs of the meeting which took place adjacent to our Hebden Bridge (HB) Co-operative Food store on 2nd November 2011

Those present: Co-op Tim Coulman (TC), the Co-operative Group (tCG) Operations Manager (chaired the meeting) John Hobin (JH) - HB Store Manager Gemma Wademan (GW) - HB Duty Manager (recorded minutes), HB Residents, Customers, HebWeb contributors, editor and TCG members.


The meeting was convened by TC who introduced TCG Colleagues, explained their roles in the Society, his objectives for the meeting, his intention to chair the meeting and also ensure all attendees had the opportunity to contribute.

The main objective was to listen to feed back from the attendees, answer any questions on the evening and ultimately seek to improve any areas of concern.

TC also stated he would provide the detail of the meeting to the HebWeb forum and ensure copies were also posted in store.

TC also explained that many Colleagues from the store wanted to be present but felt the purpose was to listen to Customers and respond accordingly.

A number of issues arose and were either raised individually or supported by a general consensus and TC has aimed to indicate where this is the case. I have also reviewed the Heb Web content and any specific issues raised via our Customer Service team in Manchester and included these accordingly. TC has also attempted to group together similar concerns to categorise issues and avoid repetition.

The detail below is set out in terms of the issue or suggestion raised (Q) followed by the response (R) from me acting on behalf of the store and  tCG (the Co-operative Group).

Q - Approx 2 months ago it appeared store was being prepared for a visit and concern was why it couldn’t always be like this? - Customer feels conned. What can Customers expect as a norm.

R ? we have a process which requires every store to be at ‘model’ store standards usually 3 to 4 times annually. This ensures any changes to systems, layout, range and seasonal changes etc are in place in all stores at the same time. Our aim is to be as close to these standards as often as possible although this is not always achieved and probably the same for all Retailers. We discourage excessive stocking to avoid unnecessary waste and costs for these events and generally the amount of stock on shelf (especially for fresh products) is determined by historic and forecast sales and a balance between sales, availability and waste i.e. what’s not been sold. We do acknowledge that Human nature dictates that if the store is subject to an ‘inspection’ they may increase stock levels accordingly. TC and JH are in agreement that this would not be the case for HB for these events.

Q ? How well is the store doing and does it make a profit or will it close down?

R ? We have had a Society store in HB for many years and we intend to maintain the presence of this store for the long term. The store performs well and no discussions have taken place to consider the possibility of HB store closing regardless of the existing competition or new competition in the future.

Q ? The product range was challenged in terms of provision for vegetarian, organic, vegan and more ‘unusual’ products to meet the customer profile in HB area. The view was the current range was generally not sufficient for HB. tCG Member also raised this specifically.

R ? TC has reviewed Fresh Produce, Yoghurts and Fresh Meat (especially Fish) and certain ranges e.g. Produce have been increased to current maximum range size available in tCG. TC has also committed to meeting with Commercial Buying team either at the store and Manchester Head office to review these ranging areas and the potential to increase locally sourced product. TC has also requested that JH notify him of any lines deleted, which fall into the above categories to enable him to challenge the decision as required. A selection of new products are now available in Produce are pak choi, lemongrass, fennel and a wider specialist potato range. All fresh Organic products have also been relocated to the last bay adjacent to fresh produce to highlight the choice available.

Q ? General support for Colleagues in terms of dealing with ‘difficult’ or challenging Customers. Specific concern raised on their behalf over unwelcome comments raised on the Heb Web forum or directly to store Colleagues. View was there were always opportunities for improvement. However store may have been depicted unfairly on occasion with view of poor staff attitude unfounded. Customer raised issue of being ‘fobbed off’ with inaccurate responses. Customer raised perceived issue of poor pay.

R ? TC stated he had worked in retail for 30 years and had experienced a wide variety of Colleagues being treated poorly. His view and that of the Society is that no Colleague should be subject to any kind of abuse or unwelcome personalised comment regardless of how upset an individual may be. TC has arranged for copies of agreed responses to be provided to store Colleagues to ensure a consistent response to frequent Customer queries e.g. for availability, range, pricing etc.

Colleague pay and benefits are in line with Retail Industry and constantly reviewed on this basis and in partnership with USDAW and NACO. tCG Colleagues also enjoy many member benefits due to being part of a mutual Society operating across numerous service sectors e.g. banking, travel, funeral care etc. There is also comprehensive training, process and procedures in place which support our Colleagues ability to complete their responsibilities effectively to help ensure we always put our Customers first.

Q ? Numerous comments raised over potential for new Food retail competitor in HB or Todmorden. Specific challenge that HB should provide a better service as it had a monopoly in the area. Specific comment that a larger store would be a good/not a good idea for Hebden Bridge.

R ? All Retailers access data on the potential for a Food store in any area across the UK and would make a decision based on this alongside planning restrictions etc. Was this to happen it may provide more choice but there may be downsides in terms of what each Retailer may be able to provide e.g.  worse availability due to reduced individual store sales. As already stated, our intention is maintain a long term presence in the town and improve our offer and service where ever possible. TC also stated that many towns across the UK had unique features and his belief is that Hebden Bridge is ‘more unique than most’ and his aim is to understand this in more detail to meet residents needs and improve the success of the store accordingly.

Q ? General concern raised over empty shelves especially evening and weekends. Customer who shops in the evening experiences poor availability of Bread, Fruit and Veg. Comparison made to competitors where they have better availability. Fresh Fruit & Veg highlighted as the worst area consistently this year. Assurances given in 2009 this would be improved following refit. Why so poor? How is stock ordered and how is it managed? Availability very poor overall in recent weeks. Customers concerned over aisles being blocked when re-stocking shelves. Customer raised concern over quality of fresh produce e.g. Bananas were brown.

R ? TC has had responsibility for store since January 2010 and felt store had improved throughout the year based on measurements in place. Since the refit, the store has gradually increased its sales and was constantly in a ‘catch up’ position which has impacted availability. TC has increased the stores staffing budget to enable more investment in reviewing sales, stock levels and ordering patterns to improve on shelf availability. Recently the store has switched it supply to a new Depot and many stores including HB had experienced substantial issues especially in fresh product areas. TC acknowledged that tCG had failed dismally in enabling a smooth transition in switching supply from one depot to another and this was completely outside of the stores control. The issues have now diminished and are minor teething issues. TC and JH have also requested a change to the stores delivery schedule for all fresh products to early evening which would enable the store to replenish shelves whilst the store is quiet or closed and support more consistent management of availability from store opening to closing.. TC also stated that the existing system to manage stock levels and ordering systems were not as advanced as they need to be for HB. The tCG are currently trialling a state of the art replenishment system which will be implemented in HB early in 2011 which will have a further impact on improving on shelf availability. Regardless of all the above, all Retailers operate on the basis they will never be able to maintain 100% availability across all opening hours. We do have processes in place which are designed to ensure we have all the top selling products always available along with ‘basic’ needs e.g. milk, sugar, butter, eggs, potatoes, tomatoes, bread etc and we monitor this intensely. The store has also been advised to produce signs explaining to Customers what has happened if a specific issue arises e.g. freezer has broken down ? expect repair to be complete within 1 day etc.
TC and JH have reviewed the process and frequency of product quality checks at point of delivery, warehouse storage and whilst on sale and will continue to monitor accordingly.

Q ? Customer stated that when tCG  merged Brittania Building Society (BBS) they changed everything to tCG processes from day one and why couldn’t the new depot achieve this.

R ? TC stated that BBS still operates under its existing processes and a process would be employed over time to harmonise all business functions. The timeline for the new depot supplying HB store was shortened due to operational demands and issues arose as a result. TCG will apply this learning to future projects affecting Food and other tCG businesses. Similarly the purchase of the Somerfield business and all the stores fascias, processes and operating systems will take approx 18 months to complete and is proving to be successful. The improved systems for managing stock levels, ordering and availability are as a result of the purchase of Somerfield where we aim to implement and adopt the ‘best of the best’ systems available across both businesses. Part of this process is to trial new systems exhaustively to ensure a long term benefit to us and our Customers.

Q - Pricing errors raised generally and especially for product promotions and offers. Customer raised the complexity of wording on offers signage (our ref is point of sale or POS). Customer stated POS not there or in wrong place. Customer queried shelf edge tickets (our ref is shelf edge labels or SEL’s) being too small for partially sighted/elderly shopper who they assisted.

R ? tCG has increased the number and presence of its promotional offers from early in 2010 resulting in a substantial increase in the amount of POS each store is provided with or produces. This is an area we recognise we need to improve on and TC has agreed additional staffing at the store to support this. TC will also challenge any offer description not clearly worded or if an offer is not easily understood e.g. all flavours of soup included etc. with Head Office and will review the next promotion set up to sense check this.

Q ? Customer stated range for a weekly shop was good with wine range good especially but more local produce again wanted. Custome asked why News and Mags have to be sold with overall limited space. Customer requested kitten food be stocked. Query over whether HB store is a supermarket or a convenience store.

R ? HB store is classed as a supermarket due to its size and range stocked and our intention is to ensure we meet our Customers weekly shopping needs. Separately we aim to meet the needs of the area specifically (already covered) and this is an area TC will be investigating further as already covered. Inevitably, we won’t meet every ones needs although we will try to ensure we bridge the gaps where ever possible. With regards to News and Mage, this would fall into the range expected by our Customers of both a Supermarket and Convenience store offer and range and classed as ‘essential’ as opposed to optional.

Q ? Two Customers raised an issue with Customer Services at Manchester and did not gain a response. Customer highlighted that an office used to be located on shop floor prior to refit and was a good idea. Customer stated it was unclear where to go to speak to a Manager or feed back any comments to the store.

R ? TC and JH will ensure a Customer comments box and slips are available at the kiosk along with signage highlighting to Customers where to go if they have an issue i.e. Kiosk has tannoy system and telephones are located there. There is no intention to reinstate an office on sales floor due to space constraints. TC stated that all Customer complaints or feed back received by Customer service team at Head office in Manchester is sent to TC to manage or included for information. TC has followed up on behalf of Customer who raised concern during the evening (only got 1 Customers details on the night) who has subsequently been contacted via Manchester.

Q ? Customer stated car park needs to be cleaner. Concerns raised over staffing levels and only one till open before 9am causing queues. Customer suggested a cycle rack is installed.

R ? JH has addressed Colleague staffing levels before 9am and will ensure kiosk and a main till is open to avoid queues and cater for differing basket/trolley shopping sizes. A new Colleague is being appointed from the end of November to keep car park, trolleys clean, empty bins etc. TC has also increased the Colleague staffing budget for 2011 in response to issues raised on POS, availability and replenishment issues. TC and JH we needed an overall improved response at busier times and will review this ongoing. TC has requested installation of a cycle rack in car park for early 2011.

Q ? General concern over availability of the best promotional offers e.g. in the door drop leaflet. Customer highlighted that staff did not know what the offers were or if they were available.

R ? Already stated that the number and strength of offers have increased substantially in 2010 and tCG were in their first year of learning how successful or otherwise the various offers were. TC also stated that on average he visits the store weekly in his role as Operations Manager and as a frequent shopper. In conjunction with the store TC and JH have frequently challenged Head Office over the levels of stock for the key offers which has improved as a result. TC agreed that Colleagues should have access to promotional leaflets to advise Customers as required of offers, availability or explanation of offers and has requested this accordingly.

Q ? Customer raised concern over products moving location

R ? TC committed that apart from promotional offers and reviewing location and amount of confectionary displays there was no intention to relocate product ranges within the next 12 months e.g. moving bread to a different location etc. TC also advised that the layout is determined principally on convenience to Customers and its ‘shoppability’ as opposed to ensuring you visit every section to purchase your basic needs and making it difficult to shop as a result.

Q ? Customer stated TC wasn’t a resident and wouldn’t understand the residents needs adequately.

R ? TC responded that he lived near Littleborough and had been a frequent visitor to Hebden Bridge with his family over many years and as he now has responsibility for HB store he would aim to understand more clearly the needs of the community, the stores Customers and the role of the Society in Hebden Bridge.

Q ? Concern raised over timing of this listening group. Customer suggested local hall may be available past 7pm.

R ? TC informed meeting that current ‘mill’ location had a 7pm time restriction which would be challenged ahead of next meeting. Store will also investigate possibility of holding meeting at local facility as suggested. TC is aiming to hold quarterly listening groups throughout 2011 with the aim of addressing current and future concerns and suggestions where possible. (Note: Town hall (01422 845261 available after 7pm) 


Summary of actions taken so far

  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetable range increased to maximum range available
  • Fresh organic range grouped together in last bay adjacent to Fresh fruit and Veg.
  • Colleague staffing levels increased early morning at ‘School’ times to reflect increased number of Customers
  • Kiosk and ‘main’ till cover provided in line with above
  • Number and size of Confectionary displays reduced to reflect an improved balance across the store and in line with tCG policy to discourage ‘pester power’ at Checkouts etc.
  • Customer Comments box and slips provided at kiosk for any future issues, concerns, suggestions or requests for specific products to be stocked
  • TC will forward request for Kitten Food, organic wholemeal flour and ? litre milk cartons highlighted on the night
  • TC to enable a Customer Listening group in conjunction with HebWeb forum, and via store advertisement on a quarterly basis throughout 2011.
  • We will aim to vary times and location to suit working patterns
  • All Colleagues to be issued with a summary of responses to Customer queries covering availability, range etc to ensure a consistent response
  • Requested change to delivery time of Fresh product range to an evening delivery to improve replenishment process i.e. late evening/after closing and improved on shelf availability from opening to closing
  • Increased staffing levels for displaying and checking POS and promotional material. Store has been provided with a guide for printing its own POS material. TC and JH will continue to challenge Head Office over illegible wording of POS or where offer is not easily understood e.g.
  • Store will create temporary signage when a specific short term issue arises e.g. if a freezer breaks down, inform Customers of this and the expected time for resolution
  • Cycle rack will be ordered for installation in the New Year
  • New Colleague to be appointed end of November to ensure car park is kept clean of rubbish, weeds etc, empty bins, keep trolleys clean and remove graffiti etc.
  • All store Colleagues have been briefed on Customer Listening group held and will have access to these notes as well as to Heb Web forum.
  • Promitonal offers leaflet will be made available to all Colleagues to advise Customers on offers, availability and location etc

The meeting concluded at approx 7pm and TC will communicate the details of the next meeting early in 2011 with the intention of holding the next meeting before the end of March 2011.

TC will review the Heb Web forum comments periodically and will contribute by way of the meetings intended to be held quarterly throughout 2011.

If there are any further issues, concerns, suggestions, ideas of feed back please contact the store directly, leave your comments in the Customer comments box or contact our Customer Service team at Manchester and in every case we will aim to respond directly.

In the meantime, thank you to everyone who attended and contributed to the meeting and along with John, Gemma and the store team I look forward to your continued support of the Co-operative store in Hebden Bridge.

Tim Coulman


See also

HebWeb news report of meeting on 2nd November

HebWeb Forum: Co-op supermarket

HebWeb news report of a similar meeting held in April 2008.



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