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From 'The Times' July 23rd 1973 - Transcribed by John Meads.

Burton's Superliner Supermarket

Tony Blackburn at the Spar opening.

How Gerry Bracey emigrated up the A6 and set up his own supermarket

Gerry Bracey has just returned with his wife from a holiday in Italy. It was the first time in three years that he had taken a break from work. He is now back in Burton Latimer, the 6.000 population Northampton­shire town on the A6, where he emigrated in 1970 to set up his own supermarket.

Bracey is one of the more fortunate members of Britain’s managerial ranks for whom the past three years have been a period of traumatic change. Back in 1969 he was director and general manager of P. B. Cow's special products division, responsible for 700 workers and a turnover of around £1m a year.

In November that year along came Jim Slater with a take­over bid for P. B. Cow and elaborate plans to reorganise the company’s industry, rubber manufacturing and processing. After 20 years with the company, Bracey's future looked threatened. What was his immediate objective - a seat on the main board of P. B. Cow - became simply another step up a greatly extended organisational ladder.

 With a wife, two children, good pension prospects and a £5,000 a year salary. Bracey took a gamble and left P. B. Cow. Still in his early 4Os, he had taken no firm decision what to do with the rest of his working life. His first thoughts focused on establishing his own busi­ness in the rubber industry where he had worked since his early 2Os. But the capital re­quirements for entering the industry proved beyond the sav­ings he had accumulated. Property was subject to the same objection. A restaurant or a public house, Bracey felt, was not the places to bring up a family.

By a process of elimination, Bracey decided on food retail­ing. By a happy coincidence, he was both a shareholder of Lewis & Peat and a casual acquaintance of the merchanting company's chairman. Harry Kissin. In 1964 Lewis & Peat acquired the wholesaling business of Thomas Linnell, which among other things owns and franchises a chain of grocery stores operating in the East Midlands, East Anglia and the south-east under the name of Spar.

Bracey’s plans to become a food retailer came to fruition in December 1970, when his gleaming new Spar “Super­liner" supermarket was opened in Burton Latimer. Thomas Linnell provided him with a lease for 3.000 square feet of selling space and a loan of £17.000 (repayable over 5 years) to­wards his start-up costs of £32.000.

They helped him along in other ways. In the previous six months, he did a tour of some of Linnell's supermarkets and went on a course for super­marketeers run by the Spar organisation, the voluntary group of grocery wholesalers of which Linnell is a part.

Bracey felt he needed to learn what he calls "the practicalities" of the grocery trade - "what a piece of bacon looks like" – “what is a good display", “how to get the housewife to spend an extra 10p a week in the store”. The techniques of modern management taught on the course were less useful to someone who had spent all his working in a manufacturing industry.

Linnell also provided him with a site assessment. This told him that his store could achieve a turnover of £3,000 a week rising to £4,000 week when the town of Burton Lati­mer expands in the near future. At a rental charge of £3,000 a year, he would achieve break­even point on a turnover of £2,121 and make a return of 12.8 per cent on his investment once turnover reached the higher figure.

These estimates have proved very close to the results of Bracey's first trading years. In 1971, he averaged £2,000 worth of business a week, starting from nothing and building up to well over that figure by the end of the year. He is doing £3,700 a week at the moment and aims for £4,000 by the end of the year.

Bracey has been able to transfer much of his experience in industry to the supermarket floor. The accounting principles he learned in industrial management have been directly transferable. He accounts for stock on a weekly basis and pro­duces regular detailed management accounts which Linnell his major supplier and backer, sees.

“Handling people" is another valuable experience he feels he has brought from industry. His supermarket employs about 14 part-time girls and a full-time butcher.

On the other hand, there are things that Bracey misses, from his days in industry. Male company is one. He misses the opportunity of talking business or politics with managerial colleagues. He also misses the higher content of brain work- as opposed to physical work- in his old job.

Those apart, Bracey has few regrets. He now has a business, which he reckons he could sell for £35,000. But it has meant three years of hard work and stress, during which he bas had to live frugally, including fosaking holidays.

Richard Spiegelberg

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