E-FILES: Rural store takes on giants

Blenheim City Four Square launched its online store in July 2000. Warren McHugh, franchise owner and general manager, says they were flat out serving orders from the beginning.

www.thesupermarket.co.nz

Online supermarkets in New Zealand aren’t new — several have been trading now for a couple of years. But it is unusual to see a small independent company footing it online with the big boys.

Blenheim City Four Square launched its online store in July 2000. Warren McHugh, franchise owner and general manager, says they were flat out serving orders from the beginning.

Thesupermarket.co.nz will deliver overnight anywhere in the country. A large proportion of its customer base is people living in isolated rural communities and parents of young children. “We see our business as making life easier for these sorts of people,” says McHugh.

The idea for an online store to sell supermarket groceries was not a new one. McHugh says it was first brought to his attention some time ago when a software vendor who supported the company’s existing accounting package demonstrated an e-commerce module. McHugh says his staff thought it interesting, but nothing much was done about it.

Until the competition showed up next door, that is. A construction site across the road from one of the Blenheim stores turned out to be a new store built by one of the big supermarket brands. “We thought e-commerce might be a way to keep out staff employed. So we sat down and over too much coffee decided to research the costs of set-up and development.”

Prior to launching the website, McHugh says they had a minimal delivery business. Obviously key to the entire online operation is the ability to guarantee getting groceries out to customers. McHugh made sure negotiations were well underway with Courier Post before they even started thinking about the website.

The site itself is hosted by Telecom Internet Services, and is driven by a Canadian e-commerce module for the popular Accpac accounting package. This module was brought to their attention by the same consultant who had worked with them earlier. Key partner Enabling Technologies, an agent for Accpac, wanted to become agents for this module also, so were keen to help with the implementation.

A steering committee comprised of McHugh, a butcher, a checkout operator and an office administrator designed the user interface. They had no preconceived ideas about how it should work from a technical standpoint, so they were able to come up with a look and feel that customers would be comfortable with.

McHugh’s advice to aspiring e-tailers is to do your research thoroughly, then get on with the job. “Don’t pay consultants in the middle,” he says. “E-business is little different from what you do now.”

See NZ online groceries reach Antarctica.

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