Discount chain boss sees a rise in confidence

Consumer confidence is on the rise in the North of England, according to the head of a discount warehouse chain with retail stores across the region.

JTF has 12 stores and 500,000 members in the North and the Midlands.

It has just invested £580,000 in its new site in Leeds, creating 17 new jobs.

Paul McClenaghan, chief executive, told the Yorkshire Post: “Consumer confidence is growing.

“Obviously, we are approaching Christmas so we expect seasonal uplift, but we do understand the continuing pressures consumers are facing.”

The Nottinghamshire-based business is owned by Endless, the Yorkshire private equity investor.

It acquired the company in 2009 and has invested in new store openings and a new membership database model.

Speaking at the unveiling of the Leeds store, Mr McClenaghan said: “Right now we are looking to grow the business and make sure we have a solid platform for future growth, make sure it is professional and see where it takes us.”

JTF plans to open a new store in Walsall in the new year. It is also working on developing its multi-channel operations, including a click-and-collect service, to help fill any gaps in its geographical coverage.

Mr McClenaghan said the new site in Leeds is 39,000 sq ft, more than double the size of the previous store. The former Halfords commercial director said: “It’s a new fit-out for us.

“We have used it to showcase a look and feel that’s a step-change for the business.

“It’s almost where wholesale meets retail. Half the racking is retail format, the rest of it is warehouse racking.

“We have done some very different things here. We have managed to create a number of distinct departments within the store and the flow makes a lot more sense.

“It’s filled with theatre.”

Mr McClenaghan described the look and feel of the new store, which employs 57 people.

It features a Mini car to show how drivers can improve the look and feel of their cars by using various products to improve alloy wheels, bumpers and paint- work.

It also features a 12ft dinosaur – “so kids drag mum and dad to the toy department” – and 8ft tall models of Batman and Superman.

The new pet department – “not unlike Pets at Home” – features a chicken coop and some birdcages.

JTF, founded in 1988, has a £65m turnover and 638 employees. It markets to members by direct mail and email.

Mr McClenaghan said he is working hard to make sure the marketing material has relevance to customers. “If you are an active gardener, we will start to mail you gardening offers,” he said.

Asked what it takes to be successful in retail in 2013, Mr McClenaghan said: “Everyone is talking about omni-channel. We can see web continue to grow. Having a combination of look and feel and great service and easy access and the web is a winning combination.

“Customer service is key and product is king. If you can deliver all these things you will grow.”

The 48-year-old Londoner added that the economic climate is tough, as all retailers are experiencing.

Chris Clegg, managing director at Endless, said the private equity investor has “no immediate plans to exit, given we have just invested heavily in new store openings and a new membership database model.

“We want to see some track record on these investments before we consider taking JTF to market.”