Greg Tierney has spent all of his working life in retail – and he has loved every minute of it. Today he runs FreshExpress, a fruit and veg wholesaler supplying independent supermarkets and other large catering operations such as aged care centres and childcare centres, right across South East Queensland.
He first got into the food retail business thirty years ago, working at a Bi-Lo supermarket and subsequently buying into a Giant supermarket, before it was sold to Franklins as part of a group of five stores which went on to be the top five in the Franklins group nationally for profitability (these stores are now owned by Woolworths). Greg then joined Franklins, rolling out a fresh food offer in the supermarket group with the BigFresh brand.
He set up FreshExpress shortly after selling his supermarket to Franklins and was busy running that business when he heard about a full-line supermarket in Maryborough that was up for sale about three years ago. He had a look at it and decided that he could improve it reasonably quickly. Within seven months of buying it Greg converted it to a Supa IGA. Shortly after buying he increased trading hours to seven days. He also focused strongly on fruit and vegetables and meat (since it’s hard to compete with the majors on grocery) and made a point of being open longer hours – 6am-9pm seven days a week.
A combination of these and other promotions and improvements saw turnover more than double in a short timeframe. But after three years owning the store, Greg realised he needed to focus on his Brisbane-based business and decided to put the store on the market.
“I knew the team at Aussie Supermarket Brokers from the Metcash conferences (ASB always attends the annual IGA/Metcash conference)” says Greg. “and so I asked them what they thought they could do. I could have sold the store through the group, but they already had a number of store sales they were handling and I felt I stood a better chance of achieving a sale at the right price with the ASB team.”
“I was very impressed with the way they operated.” continues Greg. “Liz (ASB broker Elizabeth Krienke) visited the store several times in person to get a feel for it, and Liz and the team were always accessible on the phone. Another really useful thing for me was the weekly activity report that arrived every Friday without fail, so I always knew what was happening.”
Liz was excited about selling the store as she had qualified a huge number of retailers over time that she knew would be a great match for the store. Although it’s often the larger players that buy Greg’s size of store (it has a staff of 120), Aussie utilised their custom made database to generate lots of interest from individuals, with around 20 people making serious enquiry. The sale took four months in total from listing to completion, and Greg explains it only took this long as the buyers had to arrange finance.
An interesting feature of this transaction was that the buyer actually took over the company that was party to the lease with the landlord. This is unusual as when a store is sold the lease is normally transferred, which requires the active involvement of the landlord. In this sale, since the tenant legally remained the same, the landlord had no involvement in the transaction at all, which helped the speed at which the process took place.
Interestingly Greg is still involved with his old store… as a supplier. The new owner buys all his fruit and veg from Greg’s wholesale supply company.