Published in the Warrandyte Diary
Competition in the grocery game is fierce with major chains Coles and Woolworths often locked in price wars and, more recently, with German entrant Aldi entering the field.
Warrandyte’s local IGA, although not immune to big box national advertising campaigns, has managed to carve out a niche within the village ambiance of Warrandyte. Now, new rival American giant retail chain, Costco has emerged.
Quinton’s IGA proprietor Julie Quinton told the Diary, “One of our staff members found them actively campaigning outside our store, trying to get people to sign up to their club.”
Quinton’s has had its share of obstacles in recent years including the passing of founder Brian Quinton, embezzlement of funds by a staff member and even credit card fraud. In addition, recent power outages imposed by SP AusNet’s maintenance works, of which there have been five so far, have necessitated the hire of a generator at a cost of $5,500 per day.
Ms Quinton said that the emergence of Costco on their doorstep, while unwelcome, did not deter her store from “doing what we do best”. She explained, “Costco is a very different shopping experience to the community atmosphere of Quinton’s IGA.”
Ms Quinton, who had no prior retail experience, says she was “thrown in” to the job six years ago after her husband’s death. She admits there were times when “I didn’t think we’d survive”. The supermarket did endure however, and has thrived under Julie Quinton’s management.
The store has also had a facelift with an extended product range including more local produce, deli, organics and gourmet items as well as enhanced layout and decor. Ms Quinton says, “Warrandyte shoppers know what they want so we are concentrating on meeting their needs with quality and service”.
The store’s refurbishment has prompted IGA buying group Metcash to consider presenting Quinton’s IGA as a benchmark for other independent supermarkets.
Ms Quinton says she is, “proud of the way the store has evolved” but also acknowledges that “the margins are tighter and shrinking”. She says “times are tough in retail”. This view is supported by ABS statistics which show a negligible increase despite population growth and inflation in recent times.
Ms Quinton says: “It’s difficult to compete with the major supermarkets, particularly on specials but we have found little difference overall.”
She said Quinton’s conduct regular price comparisons with rival supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths. “We compare a trolley-load of everyday items which are not on special such as CSR sugar, Twinings teabags or Nescafe Coffee and prices over a whole trolley load vary by $4 to $5 – often in our favour and sometimes in favour of the chain stores. Of course that does not factor in travel costs.”
Apart from convenience, current research suggests that supporting local businesses has a cascading effect for communities. Extra dollars are put into other local businesses, service providers and producers, rather than extracted by multi-nationals. They provide more jobs, local investment and support for non-profit organisations such as schools, sporting clubs and charities.
It is also known to be the best way to ensure diversity of range and lower prices over the long term, as products are based on local needs rather than national sales plans.
Local businesses contribute to neighbourhood character and atmosphere and it is more sustainable to shop near home as this reduces urban sprawl, car use and pollution.
Quinton’s currently employ 93 staff, only eleven of whom do not reside in the immediate Warrandyte area. They also contributed $25,000 in donations to the Warrandyte community in the last financial year.
Warrandyte resident Melinda Blaser lists this community support as a key factor, “I shop there because they have a great range of organic meats and local produce, and are always happy to support the local community,” she said. Shopper Robyn Curry reiterates this view, “It’s convenient, I really like the friendly staff and the way IGA supports the local community. Plus it’s a very social experience – I often drop down to grab something and run into friends.”
A tenant of the Goldfields shopping centre, Ms Quinton plans to “continue as long as possible” and would like to purchase the building one day. She says, “I love this community and would hate to think that one of the chains could come in and erode away the character of Warrandyte”.