The value in shopping local

by Sandi Miller
4th March 2024

SUPERMARKETS have been in the news recently for the wrong reasons.
However, Warrandyte is fortunate to have an alternative to shopping with the major retailers.
Quinton’s IGA has been providing the staples of life in Warrandyte for 24 years and, in that time, has become a vital and integral part of the Warrandyte community.
Diary Editor Sandi Miller sat down with Quinton’s IGA Store Manager, Ken Barnes, and Assistant Manager, Hayley Farrugia, to discover what makes our IGA different.

Warrandyte Diary (WD): What is the Quinton’s IGA’s business model?
Ken Barnes (KB): Obviously, we’re part of the IGA family, which is part of Metcash, which, in essence, means Quinton’s IGA is part of a buying group.
This allows us, as a small family business, single entity store, to access the sort of pricing that the major supermarkets get.
But we’re not a franchise — that’s the big distinction — a lot of people will look at IGA as a franchise like a McDonald’s, but we’re not. IGA can’t come in here and specifically tell me what to do, but they give us the ability to access the bulk prices, which we can flow through to the local community.
We’re probably one of the largest single employers in Warrandyte, and we do take that with a great sense of pride, and there’s a bit of a responsibility to that, because we’re taking that generation, especially the young ones, starting them on a life journey of not only working but the bigger sense of the world.

WD: So what does that mean for local shoppers?
KB: “From our family to yours” — it’s not just a catchphrase; it’s our ethos — and we keep it local, where possible. At the moment, we have locally grown strawberries and plums.
We were getting local tomatoes until the storms came through and destroyed the hot houses — and some of the items we stock are from businesses with stalls at the Warrandyte Market, like PoppySmack and Jerry’s Burgers.
But we need to blend this with the national staples the consumer wants — like Tip Top bread and Pedigree dog food.
We go from being a small, local business to dealing with our larger suppliers, thinking “how do we think like Coles and Woolies but not act like Coles and Woolies”.

WD: Tell me about your relationship with your suppliers.
KB: With Metcash, there are things we have to do.
We have been doing a lot of work in the store over the last 12 months, which I know with some locals at times has generated some emotions, but it was about ensuring we had the right range.
The increase in the cost of living does not just impact households; it puts pressure on businesses, too. Interest rates go up for homeowners; they do for us, too.
We’ve got loans, we’ve got overdrafts, same as with rates, all that goes up, and we need to make sure we can make ends meet.
So, we either put prices up, look at ways of becoming more efficient, or negotiate with our suppliers to strengthen the relationship to get better pricing.
This could be in the way we buy stock — so volume — and means we may commit to purchasing more of one type of product to get a lower price, which we can then pass on to our customers and means we have access to products we may struggle to get if we were not part of IGA.
However, we also have upward of 100 direct suppliers — from mum and dad businesses to larger brands like Nudie Juice.
The main thing is, if a price increase comes from a supplier on a product, we see how we can minimise that through to the customer.
Unfortunately, sometimes we have no option, especially at the moment with anything wheat-related, so the bread has seen some large price rises over the last 12 months; we just have to pass that on.
But if it is things like our insurance or waste services, we will not put up the price of bananas or apples to offset that; we have to negotiate or use the IGA co-op effect to get a better deal.

WD: Tell me about the history of the supermarket and your relationship with the Warrandyte community.
Hayley Farrugia (HF): My stepdad Brian purchased the store in January 2000 — he had a big dream for the store.
When he passed away in 2008, Mum (Julie Quinton) stepped in and took over, and she wanted to carry on Brian’s dream.
But prior to stepping in and running the store, she had no retail experience, so she just wanted to come in and learn very quickly how everything operates, and she ran it from the eyes of a consumer.
I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to get customer loyalty because we look at where things are from — even when I was a kid, Mum would only buy Australian and always read the nutrition labels.
Now, we can continue to build and grow with the solid foundations she and Brian created.
KB: Supporting the community is very much the DNA of independent stores.
Being relatively new to the store, the difference between here and other independent supermarkets is why they do these things.
Supporting the community at other stores is about gaining public recognition, whereas — partly due to the influence of Brian and Julie — we do it because we want to help; it’s about a community partnership, not necessarily community kudos.
HF: Like at Christmas, we donated to the local schools so the kids could make Christmas decorations for us.
That saves us going out and buying things made overseas — and the kids love it — it just brings in that community feel, and when the kids come in, they look for their things and show their parents, and it just generates a really lovely atmosphere.

Warrandyte IGA – Store Manager Ken Barnes and Assistant Store Manager Hayley Farrugia

WD: What is your point of difference from Coles and Woolworths?
KB: It’s an interesting question because it can be quite an emotional thing.
We can sit here saying, “We deliver better customer service,” and all the standard stuff.
But for me, I’ve worked across wholesale and retail, and I had my own store, and it comes down to the four walls, the people, and everything in there that make it the difference between what’s up the road.
We have a great community sense in the store.
When you come in, and you buy that product, and it is not just a commercial decision, we don’t say, “It’s not selling, so we will pull it”, we will keep it because you are coeliac, and that is the only product that meets that need, so we will keep it.
It’s all the little things that make a difference.
But first and foremost, it is our people that make the difference.
Julie leads that at the end of the day, she’s the one that has bred the culture, and we are just the caretakers.

WD: Cost of living crisis, so how can shopping locally help the community?
KB: Shopping locally gives us better buying power; it is a chicken and egg thing.
We cannot always compete with the large chains that are a 15-minute drive away.
They are a multi-billion-dollar, national business, and we are a small, family-run supermarket.
But by shopping locally, it keeps locals employed, it allows us to invest in more people, which ultimately gives better customer service, it enables us to invest back into the business, which helps us to lower costs, and it allows us to go to our suppliers and get the next tier pricing because a lot of it is based on volume.
All of that will flow back through to the customers.
HF: And the customers make it easier for us to do our jobs. I get about four to five hugs a week — just because — and I don’t think I could ever imagine walking into a big chain supermarket and hugging one of the employees randomly.
KB: There are people who come into the store; we know them by name; you know about their kids, you know about their grandkids.
Selling baked beans or bananas is just what we do, but knowing you can have that sort of impact, no amount of money can change that or make that any better.
I want to say, on behalf of the store, the family, and the whole team, a really big thank you to the Warrandyte community just for the way they make us feel. It is just a wonderful place to work, and that is down to the Warrandyte community.