The City Market food store chain has been on a downward spiral for many years, and its demise appears inevitable, according to Dionisio D'Aguilar, chairman of AML Foods.
D'Aguilar told Guardian Business that the demise of the fledgling supermarket chain is unfortunate, but not entirely the fault of the Finlayson family, considering the nature of the food store business. His comments came as the store's principal (Mark Finlayson) confirmed to the media this week that there are two Bahamian entities expressing interest in possibly acquiring the struggling five-store chain. D'Aguilar noted that the stores' decline began long before the Finlaysons (Trans-Island Traders) purchased the chain, as the previous owners began offering products that Bahamians weren't interested in purchasing. "Mr. Finlayson was presented with a very difficult turn around that ultimately proved to be too great to resurrect. It was extremely difficult to reverse the company's debt spiral," D'Aguilar explained.
"When City Market got its reputation for not catering to the needs of the Bahamian public [it was because they] began carrying products that Bahamians didn't want. It became very difficult to resurrect that brand." The AML Foods executive advised anyone planning on getting into the food store business that it is very difficult because there are many variables that have to be considered and worked out. "Today, it's not just about putting up a nice store and supplying merchandise. There's so much more than that. You have to buy right and have a logistics team in place if you are going to run a multi-store operation," he added. "You have to have a brokerage arm, internal controls in place to minimize theft and computer systems. It requires proper marketing and merchandising. Being in the supermarket business is not a straightforward undertaking."
D'Aguilar pointed out that financing is also a key ingredient to operating any successful business, particularly when it comes to a food store chain. "You are obviously going to build stores that [are] going to cater to the type of customer that you are trying to serve. A minimum could be anywhere from three to five million bucks," he shared. He said the business strategy also depends on location and the type of customers being targeted. "Building a store out Cable Beach is different from building a store in South Beach. Building a store out Lyford Cay is different from building a store in the Grove," he explained D'Aguilar noted that the City Market brand is a loss and that whoever takes ownership needs to do so under a completely different name. He continued: "I don't think Mr. Finlayson was responsible for killing the brand. I think it was the previous owner that did that. He probably purchased the brand thinking it could be resurrected. At the end of the day, it was just overwhelming."
D'Aguilar pointed out that the SuperValue chain has been successful for more than 50 years because the owners have done a good job of satisfying its customers. "One of the reasons [SuperValue owner Rupert] Roberts has been so successful with the SuperValue supermarket chain is because he has been very hands-on in his business operations. Since City Market's decline, operations (at SuperValue) have been ramped up," he said. Meantime, more than 200 City Market employees remain jittery over their job security. Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes confirmed yesterday that more than 100 trade disputes have been filed at the Department of Labour in relation to City Market. Foulkes also said that the stores' management and officials of the union that represents the workers were expected to meet last night to discuss the future of the City Market chain.
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