Tasmanian Independent Retailers (TIR) is a company that represents a large group of independent retailers operating in Tasmania and Grant Hinchcliffe, CEO of TIR, has been in the business for twenty-five years. “Over that quarter of a decade, I’ve witnessed considerable changes in both the operations of TIR and our co-operative, the grocery retail market in Tasmania, as well as the prevailing market conditions, and of course the underlying economic circumstances,” Grant says. “Life has certainly not been boring!”
Grant has been busy addressing key concerns in his seven years as CEO, mostly in reaction to opportunities he identified when he took on the role. These include: the retail brand and the IGA channel structure in Tasmania; the model for marketing its retailers; relationships with stakeholders; supply chain challenges; and, reducing business costs and increasing return to grocery retailers.
Change presents opportunities for further consolidation and growth
“Change, whether intended or unintended, provides a platform for review,” says Grant. “That in turn presents us with the opportunity to further consolidate and grow our business network and operations. Change is good, and should always be encouraged and embraced.”
“Not having a local store in your local town is tantamount to the AFL deciding not to play football on a Saturday.”
TIR was formed in 1956 — it celebrated its sixtieth anniversary in February — and has always worked to principles that are important to the business. “It started with around six-to-eight retailers meeting on a regular basis to effectively pool their weekly purchase requirements for certain lines with the goal of negotiating a better price outcome with the wholesalers that operated in and around Launceston at that time,” says Grant. “Needless to say the same principles that applied back in 1956 continue to prevail today, albeit the size and nature of the beast is substantially different, and certainly far bigger.”
Competing with supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles
It’s a tough market to operate in, particularly when these principles don’t necessarily apply to TIR’s competitors. Independent grocers are constantly competing with supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles, as well as with the continued expansion of Aldi stores across Australia. It’s no different in Tasmania, but Grant says these business people have benefits that the giants lack.
“Independent operators have a unique opportunity to better position themselves in their local communities,” he says. “They can use their local knowledge and understanding of their customer base to present an offer that’s reflective of what the customer wants and needs. There are many stories of success where independent operators have done this and paved the way for future success.”
TIR’s co-operative approach allows these independent operators a greater chance to counter the growth of supermarket giants and maintain loyal customers. They do this, says Grant, by presenting an offer that meets and exceeds the customer’s expectations; continuing to refurbish outlets and expand existing offerings; and working with suppliers to ensure independents can provide a competitive alternative.
Smaller suppliers and producers reliant on local independent businesses
“It’s imperative that independent grocery retailers continue to grow and prosper as we are the only true alternative to the more generic offerings of Woolworths, Coles, and Aldi, and we represent, along with so many other small business, the human face of the business,” says Grant. “Especially in many Australian rural and regional areas. Not having a local store in your local town is tantamount to the AFL deciding not to play football on a Saturday — it simply goes against the Australian grain.”
Grant also notes that small suppliers and producers often rely on their local independent businesses, including the grocer, to sell their products. With produce being such an important part of the Tasmanian economy, it’s especially vital in that state.
“Examples such Ashgrove Cheese, Westhaven Dairy, Huon Agriculture, Tassal, Tamar Valley Dairies, and Pandani, along with so many other local producers, represent a small snapshot of the many Tasmanian producers. And often it’s the independent grocery sector that provides them with initial support and sales which in turn leads to further growth and development, along with their entrance into bigger markets.”