Monday Interview: Retail chief Thompson is back to where it all began

AFTER two decades in the unforgiving world of football, Stephen Thompson has returned to his first love. And he is determined to make up for lost time.

Since announcing his return to the convenience retail scene in May, Mr Thompson has opened the first three of what he hopes will be as many as 30 stores across Scotland.

The shops, based in Greenock, Larbert and Alloa, will be joined this week by another three, all in Fife, which should bring the combined headcount at the fledgling business to around a hundred.

Poignantly, the shops trade under the banner of Eddy’s Food Station, a nod to his late father Eddie Thompson, a giant of the Scottish grocery scene and former owner of Dundee United Football Club.

Speaking to The Herald last week, Thompson said he is enjoying his return to an industry in which he first made a name for himself at Morning, Noon & Night, the network he co-founded with his father and Fraser Mackay, and built for a group of 50 stores before its £30 million sale to Scotmid in 2004.

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“I spent the first 20 years of my life in retail,” Thompson said. “It’s in my blood, it’s what I know, it’s what I know well. I know how well we did with Morning, Noon & Night and we looked at the market and thought: here’s an opportunity to go back and build something.”

Thompson has returned to the industry after spending much of the last 20 years in football, initially with Dundee United, where he took over as chairman following the death of his father in 2008, and then in the United States. After a rollercoaster spell at United, which included Scottish Cup triumph and relegation, he sold his stake in the Tayside club in 2018, some 16 years after his father took control. of Tannadice.

Asked if much had changed in retail during his time away, Thompson highlighted the development of takeout, now seemingly ubiquitous in convenience stores, and changes to technology and systems, though he vowed to make things “as before”. fashion” initially at Eddy’s. “We will introduce the paperless route in due course,” she said.

He also noted that many of the big manufacturers have changed their names and laments that “companies are no longer really run by CEOs; they are run by finance people” who are more “cautious” in their approach.

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Very few of the leading figures at the major suppliers he previously dealt with remain, Thompson added, while the bigger names that used to dominate the sector, families like Botterills, Sands and Sokolowski, have long since sold out to bigger suppliers. players

“There are not many [stalwarts left]”, Thompson said. “You don’t have the same number of independent multiples. We’ve all sold out at some point, whether it’s us, Jim Botterill, David Sands or Stan Sokolowski. There are now very few independent multiple retailers.”

When asked if this meant there was an opportunity for new indie players to emerge, he replied: “At the end of the day, it’s always been about location, finding the right locations. I’m probably looking for larger stores now than I would have had many years ago. I am looking for a minimum of 2,000 square feet.

“Is more difficult [to find stores]? It’s probably no more difficult than it was years ago. In the old days, you may have been up against a couple of other retailers who buy stores.

“It’s always been difficult trying to find the right sites. You just need to work with the right people.”

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While Eddy’s is off to a good start, Mr. Thompson said it hasn’t all been smooth sailing in his efforts to get the new business off the ground.

He is scathing about what he sees as a lack of support for new businesses in Scotland, saying his track record in the industry hasn’t counted for much.

Eddy’s has been financially backed by a London-based company, Nash Capital, as well as other equity investors in the city.

“It was a struggle to get the company off the ground,” Thompson said. “Apart from a little bit of support locally (advice) when we hire new employees who haven’t worked for a few years, the only money that has been put into this business from Scotland has come from me.”

And he added: “Up here there is no support for [new] business Everyone said the usual: come back in six months, come back in nine months. But once you’re at that stage, everyone is on you because your business is established.”

Thompson also expressed disappointment that “no one took me seriously” within the industry when he embarked on Eddy’s, noting that some wholesalers “never saw the opportunity in the business, despite my business experience.”

It eventually struck a supply deal with Bestway Wholesale, which it praised for its commitment and strong chilled food offerings, to supply stores. While Mr Thompson admits he “underestimated” how difficult it would be to build a new retail brand, he said: “It’s been disappointing, it’s been challenging, but it prompts me to prove everyone wrong.”

Eddy’s expects to increase its store portfolio to six this week, when it completes a deal to acquire three well-established outlets in Fife. It will increase the company’s workforce to about 100 employees. More outlets could be added to Eddy’s property before the end of the year. Thompson said, “I just think it’s something you should be proud of, when you’re creating jobs.”

six questions

Which countries have you most enjoyed traveling to, for business or pleasure, and why?
America and Australia. America has so many different experiences, from city life to beaches and everything in between. Australia has the same language and the weather dictates your lifestyle. I also love their outdoor life.

When you were a child, what was your dream job? Why did you appeal?
Footballer: I was a football fool. Then, lately, a musician because I played in a band.

What was your biggest opportunity in business?
When my late father, Fraser Mackay and
I formed Morning Noon & Night.

What was your worst moment in business?
The day we sold Morning Noon & Night because we had such a successful business.

Who do you admire the most and why?
my late father

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?
Book – Flight 149 by Stephen Davis.
Music is my passion and I played in bands for years. The last concert
I went to the Coldplay era.

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