Booker on mission to allay retailer fears

A charm offensive undertaken by Booker chief executive Charles Wilson appears to be winning over independents operating under the wholesaler chain’s retail fascias to the company’s proposed takeover by Tesco.

Wilson has been touring the country to host meetings with retailers operating under the group’s Premier, Budgens, Londis and Family Shopper stores, to answer questions and persuade them of the benefits the company perceives for them in the merger.

Premier retailers who had attended meetings told OLN that retailers had come away from them broadly positive.

Linda Williams, co-owner
of the Broadway Convenience Store in Oxgangs, Edinburgh, was among attendees at one of the summits at the Hampden Park football stadium in Glasgow.

“I’m genuinely excited about what it might mean to us,” said Williams. “There were 30-40 of us and there were naturally a few reservations that people had to start with, but generally people were quite positive.

“I think everyone realises that Booker had to do something because we couldn’t go on as
we were.

“This is a way of getting better prices and higher margins.”

Shahid Razzaq, owner of Mo’s Premier convenience store and
a Booker group Family Shopper store, both in Blantyre, Glasgow, added: “I’m keen on the deal because I think it will benefit
the symbol group in terms
of cheaper pricing and more support with services such as Tesco Bank and Tesco Insurance.

“We’ll also be able to tap into the systems it has such as insurance for our own stores.”

But some retailers operating within the Booker group are yet to be won over. “It is a worry for us,” said Jayesh Patel, who runs specialist bottled beer retailer Westholme Stores, which operates under Booker’s Londis banner in Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire.

“I have a Tesco Express opening down the road from me. If that is opening and then Tesco is going to be my supplier as well I have no idea what is going to happen.

“The benefits will go to bigger stores of 3,000sq ft or so rather than the smaller ones because they sell a lot more items and more products. It will be a big blow for smaller independents such as us.”

Patel added: “What I don’t want to see is them trying
to push the Tesco brand [in Booker group stores]. Even if independents can get good prices they will still want the brand to be different so that they can be competitive.

“I’m totally against Tesco because we’ve been fighting against it coming in here for three or four years and it has finally got its planning through.

“It always seems to get what it wants eventually. I’m afraid it’s going to be a tough time for everyone and I hope that the competition authorities take notice of it.”

James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, said: “Some retailers will welcome this news, others will be concerned about competing with stores supplied through the merged Booker
and Tesco business, and some will be uneasy at the prospect
of working in partnership with one of their biggest historical competitors. “

He added: “The Competition & Markets Authority will look at all the implications of this merger and we will assist it in any way we can.”

Tesco is aiming to buy the Booker group in a £3.7 billion deal. The supermarket group’s chief executive, Dave Lewis, said: “This merger will further enhance Tesco’s growth prospects by creating the UK’s leading food business with combined expertise in retail, wholesale, supply chain and digital.”

Wilson added: “We believe that joining forces with Tesco offers the potential to bring major benefits to end consumers, our customers, suppliers, colleagues and shareholders.” 

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