Chelmsford Star Co-Operative Society Ltd

Star power

Due to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2017, Chelmsford Star Co-Operative Society Ltd. represents a vital part of the local community with a portfolio of operations including convenience stores, funeral directors and department stores

The rich history of the Chelmsford Star Co- Operative Society Ltd. began when iron foundry workers established the business in Chelmsford during 1867, with the intention of becoming ‘the Star of the County.’ Braintree Co-operative Society merged with Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society in 1969 to create the currently structured co-operative society, retaining the name Chelmsford Star. From its relatively humble beginnings the society has grown through prudent investment, insightful management and the support of members and other customers to become a significant trading presence throughout mid-Essex. “Our core business is within the food market with 39 convenience stores, however the Chelmsford Star Co-Operative Society also comprises one off license, a petrol forecourt, two post offices with another three planned for 2016, two department stores, two travel agents and seven funeral directors,” elaborates Chelmsford Star Co-Operative Society CEO, Barry Wood. “We also have a handful of commercial properties and residential flats above shops but Food is by far our biggest area.”

Today the Chelmsford Star Co-Operative generates an annual turnover of £101 million, trading in Braintree, Chelmsford, Ingatestone, Danbury, Writtle, Hockley, Canvey Island, South Benfleet, Tilbury and Shoeburyness. At the core of the society’s formation was a vision to meet the needs of its members and ultimately sharing the company’s profits with them. The Chelmsford Star Co-Operative’s mission is to work together giving life and meaning to the Co-operative’s unique position in the market by trading ethically in order to share its success and serve, support and sustain local communities. The Co-Operative business believes in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others, which has led to increasing levels of focus on developing trade with local food producers.

Local focus

In addition to being a good fit with the Chelmsford Star Co-Operative’s commitment to working in partnership with the local community, its increased collaboration with local suppliers is also on-trend with the demands of the wider food market. Indeed, YouGov Omnibus research, conducted on behalf of East of England Co-op in June 2015, shows that 79 per cent of adults think it’s important that people in Britain buy locally sourced produce. The report also noted that despite this only 30 per cent of the people interviewed had actually bought locally sourced food in the past week, which was largely attributed to a lack of buying options. Within this sector the Chelmsford Star Co-Operative has proven to be ahead of the curve in the convenience store market, by acting swiftly to further develop its relationships with local suppliers. “As a company we have traditionally dabbled in local foods for a number of years, however in 2013 we decided that the market for local foods was one that was growing and fit well into our focus of being at the heart of the community. Therefore it didn’t make sense to not try to raise our game in this area and take the opportunity seriously. Our local food programme is called the ‘Only Way is Local’, which being ten minutes away from Brentwood is obviously a play on the name ‘The Only Way is Essex.’ The brand is well recognised by shoppers and has grown well during the years, with the turnover for local food topping £1.8 million in 2015,” Barry reveals.

“This allows us to demonstrate to both shoppers and members how we are different to other convenience food options and the benefits of shopping with the society in terms of good service, quality products ands the reward of a dividend to members.

“We can also highlight the benefits of the society to the community, which extends to being more than just a local convenience store,” he continues. “In fact out of every pound that is spent in our stores, 32p is returned to the community in some way, be that through wages, paying local suppliers and charity work. I think that this is an important message to share that onethird of every pound stays in the local area, which in terms of what constitutes local food can also mean adjoining counties at times.”

New store openings

As well as increasing its relationships with local food producers, Chelmsford Star Co-Operative Society is also furthering its presence within the community through the acquisition of new stores throughout its trading area. In recent years the company has operated with a strategy of seeking to open a new store every 12 months, expanding to include new stores in Leigh-on-Sea and Dagenham during 2016. “We have always had a desire to grow, as we are a relatively small society when compared to societies such as the East of England and Southern counties,” Barry says. “This year we will hopefully have added four stores to the portfolio, meaning that our store numbers will have grown by ten per cent and that will represent a good year. The new stores in Leigh-on- Sea and Dagenham are already trading and all being well the other two will be in operation by Christmas. We would also like to open another store in 2017 and hope to continue to grow on that basis.”

This continued expansion in the Society’s presence is being undertaken at the same time as a programme of store refurbishment across its locations, with local businesses such as Envirosigns Ltd. and Figaro Flooring Designs Ltd. providing works at several sites. This refurbishment programme forms a further facet in the Chelmsford Star Co-Operative Society’s intention to create a better environment for its members and the wider community over the coming years. “The refurbishment strategy was something that we embarked on during 2014, when it became clear that the quality of convenience stores in the market generally was improving,” Barry concludes. “We have completed 12 stores, with another store being refurbished at the moment and we are currently planning to do another six next year. Once all of the stores across our estate are completed, we feel that we will have a superior shopping environment for both our members and customers that can compete with anyone else on the market.”