New Co-op boss vows to win back customers amid ‘period of change’

New Co-op boss Jim Shanks
Click to enlarge

The new manager of Co-operative Food’s Lerwick shop has vowed to put the customer-owned society back at the “heart of the community”.

41-year-old Jim Shanks, originally from Glasgow, took the helm earlier this month. He inherits a store which has lost considerable trade to rival supermarket Tesco since the latter’s major expansion of its South Road store four years ago.

One local politician told this newspaper privately that the Co-operative’s Lerwick branch badly needed to “smarten up” its act. It was “like chalk and cheese” compared to better-run Co-operative outlets on the Scottish mainland, they said.

Without getting into many specifics, Mr Shanks acknowledged there were things “I need to address”. He has already identified the need for a cashpoint, and is eager to have a “two-way conversation” – taking on board customers’ feedback while also spreading the gospel about the Co-operative’s distinctive mission.

In the short time since Mr Shanks moved to the islands, he has been “overwhelmed” by how welcoming people are and has detected “a great sense of community in Shetland”.

He hopes to capitalise on that in several ways. Those include getting involved with volunteer groups, educating local schools about the importance of fair trade and ensuring more people understand that the Co-operative is a society owned by its members, not a conventional business.

“I’m a great believer that we have to get back in the heart of the community, because we’re a community-based organisation,” Mr Shanks said. “That’s where we’re looking at things to support local organisations from one end of the spectrum to the other.”

Asked whether some kind of store revamp or overhaul was in the pipeline, he replied: “I’m always looking at things. I can’t comment at the moment because it would be inappropriate to, but we are moving it forward on our customers’ feedback.”

Figures from a forthcoming SIC study show the islands’ entire retail sector was worth nearly £60 million in 2011. Anecdotally, it has been suggested that Tesco now accounts for more than half that sum – though store manager Paul Clelland said he was unable to comment on its turnover.

Irrespective of the precise figures, it is abundantly clear from observing the number of vehicles in the supermarkets’ respective car parks that trade at the Co-operative tills has taken a considerable dunt.

New Lerwick Co-op boss Jim Shanks.
Click to enlarge

Two years ago the Lerwick branch announced it was shedding 14 full-time equivalent posts, but Mr Shanks insisted there were no concerns about the store’s long-term viability. It now employs 10 full-time and 44 part-time members of staff, and there are no plans to change that at present.

The Co-operative Food group as a whole is “in a period of change”, Mr Shanks said. He also pointed out that the Co-operative has a food store in every UK postal district, and the society has toughed out plenty of “ups and downs” in its 160-year history.

As one would expect, the new man is eager to wrest some trade back from Tesco.

“Every competitor would say that. Yes, we’d be looking at bringing customers back to our doors. Without going into stats and figures, what I can say is that we are in a comfortable position. But we’re always looking to improve, we’re always open to suggestions.”


Add Your Comment
  • Harry Dent

    • April 26th, 2013 12:43

    I wish Mr Shanks success.

    I’d far rather shop at the Co-op than Tesco for all sorts of reasons but, quite frankly, it’s not been offering much to tempt me through the doors recently.

    On my last visit (before Mr Shanks’ arrival) the staff seemed demoralised and demotivated; if the new man can crack that problem, he might like to consider improving the lighting and the cafe as well as installing a cash machine, the lack of which both at Lerwick and Brae is bizarre for a company that runs a bank as well as its shops.

  • Michael Grant

    • April 26th, 2013 13:30

    He could start with having more as one checkout open between the hours of 8am and 10am,nobody wants to wait 15-20mins to get checked through with just a few items.

  • Ruth Hall

    • April 26th, 2013 16:15

    I would also like to wish Mr. Shanks great success.

    When we were back in Shetland for the hamefarin we arrived at the ferry terminal. As we were going to be self-catering we decided to stock up on supplies at the Co-op. On that particular day we received -to put it mildly – a bored, and less than welcoming response from one of the cashiers. Perhaps that person was having a bad day! However, the Co-op must be the first contact with Shetlanders that many visitors have, especially those who will be buying in supplies, and a smile or a little attention would go a long way to make folk feel welcome. We found all the items we needed and the store did seem to offer a good variety of products, especially those suited to vegetarian diets – a far better supply than are available in many supermarkets here in the U.S.

    Best wishes,

    Ruth Hall

  • Sam A Squatch

    • April 26th, 2013 17:03

    You’ve got a hill to climb before get to base camp…good luck

  • Douglas Young

    • April 26th, 2013 17:09

    Welcome Mr Shanks I will gladly return to your store having given up several years ago.
    I went as far as writing to the CEO of the Society as I was saddened to see the shambles this store had become.
    Start with improving the pot-holed car park, trolleys stored out in all weathers, ATM, improved cashiers who are both on duty and interact with the customers, more competitive pricing, better labelling especially where products are sourced locally and from the UK, improved cafe, filled shelves and above all CUSTOMER SERVICE.
    And you will get us all back.

  • Joe johnson

    • April 26th, 2013 21:00

    Good luck Jim Shanks. Welcome to Shetland!

  • Andy Hayes

    • April 27th, 2013 9:37

    Co-op’s attitude here always seemed cynical to me. Their store was a hideous outdated shop to be in, but they never bothered updating it as their only competition wasn’t really bothering either. I am referring to safeway and Morrisons. Co-op seemed to think that it was good enough for us.

    When I heard Tesco’s were coming here I knew that there would be a shake up, but I did not expect them to close the store completely to refurb it. When the refurb was finished there were huge amounts of people waiting to get through the door on the first day. I couldn’t believe it when I walked through the doors. It was like being in a supermarket south, amazing after the 70’s shopping experience we had become used to from the Co-op. Suddenly on the back foot the Co-op had to get the store improved, too little and too late for most of us.

    The car park is a potholed disgrace, whereas Tesco’s has been extended and isn’t full of holes. I’m afraid that Co-op would have to go a long way to ever get me back through their doors on a regulat basis. At the moment it is a nice place to nip into if you don’t want to battle to Tesco crowds when you are only wanting a couple of items.

    The Tesco haters will be pleased to hear that all is not perfect in my Tesco shopping experience. I notice lines that I buy no longer being sold. In these cases I turn to good old Amazon and get it delivered by post.

    Don’t complain Co-op, you have had plenty of time to improve things. People are just taking their money to where they can get the best deal and experience, and that includes quickly checking out of the store.

  • Carol Gifford

    • April 27th, 2013 11:40

    I would like him to improve the attitude of the staff….90% of therm are so miserable. When you go to the check outs they act like they don’t want to be there, and at times you struggle to understand them as they mumble.
    One other think…..get more selection of fresh meats.

  • john gay

    • April 28th, 2013 12:20

    Speedy checkout and a cheery, happy, staff would work wonders for the store and your stay in the Shetland community if people get what they want they come back for more no matter how many holes in the car-park.

    People catching ferries. buses, taxis, would be delighted, I believe this could be sorted in your first few days and solve 75% of your problems at no great cost in the long run.

  • Sally Ritch

    • April 29th, 2013 10:26

    I would agree with Michael Grant’s comment – a speedy checkout for those purchasing a few items would certainly improve my shopping experience at the Co-op. Joining the long queue with your small basket of items at the fags, booze & lottery ticket counter is rarely a quick option.
    And a few more smiles from staff wouldn’t go amiss either, although I cannot fault some of the staff working on the checkouts who are generally friendly and polite.

  • Sam A Squatch

    • April 29th, 2013 12:10

    If things don’t change soon I’d recommend handing the key’s over to Lidl (Orkney has a store next Tesco). Next time in Tesco pause for a moment and take account of the cash flowing into the store…it’s many £millions.

  • Jane Leask - Clousta

    • June 11th, 2013 9:13

    I was in the coop this morning and there were no tills open. The only person serving was at the cigarette kiosk. There was a queue of us all popping in before work. This is really bazarre for a store (or is it just me). The lady serving said there were staffing issues today but the person behind me said it was the same at quarter to nine yesterday and I had experienced the same at half eight one morning. If the new manager wants to make improvements then maybe when there is no staff for the tills he could himself service. There has been time since April when the new manager started to sort this kind of thing out. Isn’t that what the shop is there for to allow us to buy goods and to take the money for i?.

    Did I just hit a bad day or has anyone else found that things have not improved yet (and in the mornings have got worse). So I think any pre work shopping will be at Tesco from now on which is a shame.

  • Michael Grant

    • June 11th, 2013 14:08

    You would be lucky to find more as one open at 10am,place is a shambles which is why Tescos is always busy.

  • Douglas Young

    • June 12th, 2013 8:54

    I re-visited the store on Monday and it will be another 6 months before I try again.
    It’s not that Tesco are doing everything well, it’s the Coop who are doing things poorly.
    Empty shelves, Scottish strawberries on the turn due to poor storage and grapes that are going off after 12 hours. Check outs as commented above. Rusty old trolleys and potholes. I could go on but we all know the problems.
    Still prefer the Coop business ethics and agree with the cash machine.

  • fraser cluness

    • June 12th, 2013 10:22

    They should sell it to Asda! get some compertition going


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