Introducing Finlay Robinson, joint owner, along with his brother Kenneth, of Robinson’s Supermarket, as he takes his place on the Food Force Ireland board this year.
As a former Costcutter member of 23 years, Finlay Robinson experienced the benefits of being a Food Force Ireland (FFI) member previously when the symbol group was still a part of Nisa. The independent buying power that FFI had provided Robinson’s Supermarket was one of the main motivators behind rejoining Nisa in 2015.
“We have always considered ourselves to be an independent retailer but only after embracing FFI as a fully fledged Nisa member four and a half years ago was this truly independent vision realised,” Finlay tells Neighbourhood Retailer. “Although we are Nisa members and fully appreciate the necessity of being part of a large symbol group, we honestly feel that underpinning our business with FFI allows us to be that little bit different from other stores in the Ballymena area.
“We believe FFI is the only option in Northern Ireland for a fully independent and progressive retailer as it allows you to offer a unique shopping experience for your customers.”
Joining the FFI board this year, Finlay will bring almost four decades of his own retail experience to the group’s 60 members. While retail continues to evolve with the introduction of new products and technologies, Finlay considers the direct link with suppliers, that FFI awards its members, a major advantage in the current economic climate.
“Retailing has become very centralised regarding warehousing and buying, but it really is beneficial – some may think old school – to have direct to store accounts,” he says. “We really value face-to-face relationships with reps, hands-on buying, and the input of their years of experience. We get to build a first-hand and direct relationship with local companies and in turn help to maintain a vibrant Northern Irish independent retail economy.”
Sales in Robinson’s Supermarket have soared since the retailer rejoined FFI, particularly within the hot and cold deli category. Finlay believes this can be partly attributed to the new products now available to them, as well as the support of other members.
“We’re now doing our own range, which is very popular with customers,” Finlay explains. “This really came about by going round other FFI stores and seeing what they’re doing. Another benefit of being a member of an organisation like FFI is the ideas shared. For instance, the Direct Supply Trade Exhibition is a must-visit because you always learn something new. Not only can you get some great deals and see new products, but you also speak to other retailers and find out what’s going on in the market.”
Currently the Robinson’s Supermarket team are awaiting planning permission on an extension for their existing shop with much more to come from the Ballymena-based business in the next year.
“In order to be a successful independent store you need to be different. You have to offer something else that sets you aside from generic neighbourhood shops. In our case this is by having Nisa as our wholesaler and Food Force as the lynchpin. We embellish this with bespoke offerings such as partnering with an award-winning butcher, a strong deli and over the last few years by rolling out our own Robinsons range of products.
“Being unique and fiercely independent is a winning combination, not only financially but is very satisfying when you get it right.”