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Family business view: Warner’s Group

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9 August 2019

DRIVING CHANGE

The Warner’s name has become well-known across the Cotswolds since the establishment of their motor business a century ago. From small beginnings, the business experienced rapid growth, soon encompassing car repairs, petrol supplies and bus services.

Starting out from the two small petrol stations attached to the existing motor business, Warner’s Budgens has grown to a business with 230 staff and £20 million-plus turnover. We spoke to Guy Warner, Managing Director of Warner’s Retail, about the major development the business has gone through and how he has managed it all in order to drive the business forward.

THE EVOLUTION INTO FOOD
The Warner’s Group developed its focus on food and drink early on and was one of the first service station outlets in the UK to sell alcohol. Guy explained that the move for Warner’s into food and drink seemed a logical one to him at the time, but admits it was not without its challenges. 

Guy clarified that the main hurdle they encountered was that a business always looks much simpler as an outsider looking in. Although there may have been an element of naivety in the first steps, Guy made the shrewd business decision to take on an experienced operations manager from the start who was able to highlight the potential pitfalls, and advise and manage through the early stages of development. Combining this with the existing retail skillset in the business was the initial recipe for success.

The overriding move in consumer food purchasing is away from the weekly ‘big shop’ at a supermarket, to a combination of the more traditional style of local ‘top-up’ shopping and online shopping. In fact, according to the Guardian article ‘Why Britain is ditching the weekly shop’ in 2017, two-thirds of Britons now nip to a supermarket more than once a day, and one in 10 people decide what to buy for an evening meal just before they eat it.

Guy confirms that his experience is that people are now much happier to support local stores and go to smaller outlets, where they know where the food has come from and what they are getting, and the experience is of both greater convenience and more enjoyable shopping.

STEPPING OUT OF THE COMFORT ZONE
With so much success behind them, and following their best two years of trading since launching in 2006, Guy acknowledges that the comfortable thing to do would be for the business to continue operating in the same way. However, with aspirations for growth, the decision was taken to lease four of the Warner’s Budgens food stores to Mid-Counties Co-operative; a deal that gives Guy and the business a springboard for future projects and stores.

Guy concedes that although it was a tough decision to make, in business, you must avoid your heart ruling your head. This is, perhaps, easier said than done when you have invested so much in the growth of your business, but the commerciality of a decision should be black and white. The sale, which the Hazlewoods Corporate Finance team advised on, will provide the platform for Warner’s to grow further, with the opportunity to invest in new sites and develop the existing petrol forecourt business, where the Warner’s Budgens brand will continue.

In managing the changes afoot, Guy explains that it was important for him to work with a brand that would fit with his own. Midcounties Co-operative was the ideal choice because the two companies have shared community values as well as a commitment to supplying more locally-sourced food and drink products. As one of Hazlewoods longest standing clients, we estimate that we have been working together for the majority of the century we have both been in operation. Together, we have an eye on the future and welcome the change that it brings.

MEET THE MANAGING DIRECTOR
Guy Warner

I currently live near Winchcombe with my wife and 4 children, having lived in the Cotswolds for most of my life. I am a huge fan of running, most recently having completed the London Marathon, as well as the six Marathon Majors over the past few years. I find it a great way to relax, which also gives me time to think. I started working in the family petrol station, with no previous work experience, and things just grew from there. There is a saying that once you get into food retail you never leave, and I think that is quite true! A little known fact about me is that I am really into electronic dance music...

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