• Roberts: ‘Drastic change in shopping habits’
• Former top day off 50% if no ‘double stamps’
• Estimates ‘one-third of people having it tough’
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Super Value has slashed Sunday shopping hours after sales “dropped off 25 percent”, its principal revealed yesterday, adding: “They aren’t coming to show off their church hats any more.”
Rupert Roberts told Tribune Business that the chain, and its Quality Supermarket affiliate, have adjusted store hours in response to “drastic changes in consumer shopping habits” due to COVID-19 and associated restrictions.
Disclosing that Sunday, which was the last day to enjoy an easing of pandemic-related measures, had previously been Super Value’s busiest sales day prior to the global health crisis, Mr Roberts said he believed business would be down 50 percent were it not for the company’s “double stamps” promotion.
Disclosing that payroll would exceed sales revenue if Super Value/Quality’s 13 stores retained their pre-COVID-19 Sunday hours, he added that early closures have been staggered according to consumer demand for the past three to four weeks.
While “inner-city” stores are closing at between 1-2pm on Sundays, Super Value’s Winton store in eastern New Providence is now shutting at 3pm and Golden Gates at 5pm, although Cable Beach is remaining open to 8pm. Super Value and Quality’s outlets typically closed pre-COVID at times such as 3pm and 7pm.
But, striking a more optimistic note, Mr Roberts yesterday said predictions that sales would have fallen off by 20-25 percent at this stage of the pandemic have yet to materialise. While sales were flat in the week leading up to the weekend’s Super Bowl, he added that they had since recovered to be ahead by 6 percent this week.
The Super Value chief said consumer demand for healthier foods had also altered his sales mix, with sales of fruit and vegetable perishables and groceries now accounting for 57 percent of purchases compared to 40 percent pre-pandemic. Groceries, on the other hand, had dropped from a 60 percent majority to become the new majority.
The supermarket chain is also preparing to take a gross margin hit in a bid to offload excess inventory acquired at the pandemic’s height, with Mr Roberts estimating that average consumer per spend per transaction has suffered due to COVID-19’s impact on jobs and incomes. “There’s 30 percent more cars in the parking lot but not a penny more in sales,” he said of his Golden Gates store.
“What we have found since things have changed, and they don’t go to church to show off their pretty hats and don’t come to the supermarkets to show them off, is that Sunday business has dropped off by 25 percent,” Mr Roberts told Tribune Business.
“So we clock off accordingly in different areas. The inner-city stores we close at 1-2pm, Winton at 3pm. Cable Beach is at 8pm, and Golden Gates is 5pm. After dark, consumers don’t shop. We are now open on Mondays through Saturdays from 7am to 7pm. That’s new; we used to stay open until 9pm.
“We did our survey, and if we stay open after those hours at the 13 stores we will only do $40,000 in sales. It will cost more in payroll to keep them open. There’s no use increasing expenses to keep them open. We’ve had to restructure our shopping hours according to the way people shop, and a lot of shopping habits have changed,” he continued.
“Shopping habits have changed drastically even though we have ‘double stamps’. I believe we would have fallen off by 50 percent if we didn’t have double stamps on Sunday. That’s what’s holding it up. We used to do more on Sunday per square foot than any other day and it changed.
“A lot of things have changed. In the next ten months there are going to be more changes than you’ve seen in the last ten years.” When asked to explain what he meant, Mr Roberts pointed to the switch in buying habits that has seen consumers increasingly purchase fruits and vegetables rather than groceries as part of an apparent switch to healthier foods.
“In our remodelling we will have to take twice as much space in the produce department, fruits and vegetables,” he added. “In period four, groceries had fallen to 43 percent [of the sales mix]. It’s gone down from 60 percent to 43 percent. Perishables have gone up to 57 percent. It really used to be the other way around.
“People are eating healthier, shopping at different times, doing different things. We have to watch it and follow the trends.” Super Value’s principal suggested many Bahamians, rather than food shopping, were instead enjoying their freedom from months-long COVID-19 restrictions to spend time with their families at the beach or other forms of relaxation.
Still, Mr Roberts said dire predictions of a major revenue slump some 11 months into the pandemic have yet to become reality. “My banker and myself estimated that by this time in the pandemic our sales would be off by 20-25 percent. It hasn’t happened. People are finding money from somewhere, and there’s still a little bit of tourism trickling in,” he told Tribune Business.
“I hope it holds for the rest of the year. For Christmas we only ordered two-thirds of the hams and turkeys that we did in previous years, but we sold out. I thought sales would be off by 20 percent by then, but people found ways to enjoy Christmas. I’m hoping there’s more money hidden around in fixed deposits, savings accounts, that will hold things until we get back to some sort of normalcy.”
Disclosing that he did not closely monitor consumer spending per transaction, being more focused on business volumes and controlling expenses, Mr Roberts added: “Average sales per customer are down 25 percent; that would be my guess.
“I work at Golden Gates, and when I go down from the office to the store there’s 30 percent more cars in the parking lot but store sales are not going up by a penny. More people are coming and spending less. But you can buy macaroni and cheese on special; buy potatoes and corn beef, buy Campbell’s soup, buy cabbage.
“You’d be surprised at what low budget family members can cook up when they have to and make a pot. That’s my guess; one-third of the people are on zero budgets. They’re depending on the Government and family members to help them. I’d think it would be as high as one-third of the people are having it rough.”
With supply chain concerns and pressures easing, and Super Value regaining access to ‘name’ or preferred brands, Mr Roberts said it was now faced with having to sell off their substitutes at a discount to entice shoppers to buy them.
“We are going to have to sell-off those other brands we bought at reduced gross margins,” he told this newspaper. “We were keeping a month’s supply of inventory and I promised the Government I would increase that to three months in case there was a break in the supply chain or embargoes.
“It didn’t happen and we’re back to normal, so we have two months’ extra inventory that we have to move out.”