Securing data pools in one central location and creating a robust and flexible foundation for future digital growth are two fundamental necessities to run a successful retail/wholesaling business.

That is the view of A.F. Blakemore CIO Robert Geere, who told Essential Retail it is crucial for organisations operating in the sector to establish an IT base that can quickly and cost effectively function alongside a raft of new technology continuing to flood the marketplace.

A.F. Blakemore & Son Limited, which owns and operates 295 SPAR stores and is a wholesaler to an additional 780 SPAR partner stores across England and Wales, recently made the decision to modernise its technology stack to help meet those demands.

The company – which also supplies the UK’s independent grocery sector as the largest member of the Landmark Wholesale group – is in the embryonic stages of a partnership with Nordics-based firm Visma Retail.

Geere said Visma Retail – which counts Norwegian grocer NorgesGruppen, Swedish food retailer ICA, Coop Sweden and Coop Hungary among its customers – was one of very few organisations able to provide “a true end-to-end product” to serve Blakemore’s needs.

“Strategically, success in today’s market is about getting the data into one place,” the CIO noted. Geere has “one version of the truth” as a key business objective.

“You then build around it price and promotions optimisation and business intelligence. Having all of the product data in one place is critical for running a successful wholesale/retail business in today’s fast paced world.”

Geere explained: "Our three key criteria in finding a partner were an end-to-end solution, a supplier willing to embrace innovation and with the commitment and financial capability to continually invest in their product. Visma Retailmet all of these criteria.

“If you consider the experience you would expect from the convenience store of the future, it will be very much mobile-based and feature a wide range of technology-based innovations such as low-cost effective self-checkouts.We wanted to put a product in that would support that, in effect creating the foundation to enable speedy adoption of digital solutions.”

Visma Retail’s technology is also expected to provide an efficient platform for the company’s traders and buyers to manage margins and pricing. Visma Retail is partnered with ITIM Limited, meaning A.F. Blakemore can embed the UK-based vendor’s Profimetrics tool for price and promotions optimisation

Geere identified the fact Visma Retail’s solution was written in the Microsoft development stack as a key factor in the selection process. A.F. Blakemore is currently implementing Microsoft Dynamics CRM, so there will be consistency between those business functions.

“Visma Retail is a supplier showing signs of innovation and, importantly, one that is talking grocery and convenience,” he said.

A.F. Blakemore appointed Geere 18 months ago, and the CIO is tasked with modernising an already well-functioning IT set-up.

Geere recognises there is a need to use adaptable IT solutions and deploy management tools that enable the organisation to operate at optimal costs. The National Living Wage is putting pressure on all retailers’ margins, and the advent of new companies and online traders is only expected to continue at pace, thus increasing market competition.

“There is a recognition in Blakemore that IT has to play a central part as it would in any business, but it also about IT providing the tools for skilled business people to do their jobs even better,” said Geere.

“Many IT directors arrive in a job and say ‘the systems are all rubbish’. What we’ve got in place here is a great foundation to work from, it’s about modernising what we have – nothing is broken here.”

He added: “You don’t run a business the size of Blakemore and outperform the market as we have with broken IT. I landed in a place with solid IT, and I plan to take it to the next level.”

“I am proud of A.F. Blakemore’s history of utilising innovative IT solutions to help grow and develop a sustainable business for the long-term. What we have got in place here is a great foundation to work from, and my focus is about modernising our existing infrastructure."

He added: “You do not run a business the size of A.F. Blakemore and outperform the market as we have with ineffective IT. I landed in a place with solid IT, and I plan to take it to the next level.”

For more information: Visma Retail