December 12, 2018

CJ Lang & Son Ltd – Moving with the times

As would be expected of a company that is steadily moving towards its 100th anniversary, Dundee-based CJ Lang & Son Ltd has always looked to move with the times to stay ahead of the competition.

“Retail is a very crowded marketplace and is extremely fast moving, so we need to ensure we are agile enough to keep abreast with the speed of pace and change,” explains Colin McLean, CEO. “MUP in Scotland has brought about opportunities when pricing and promoting products as it now presents all retailers with a level playing field, while the Sugar Tax has also proven challenging for the industry. Thankfully we’re flexible enough to be able to adapt and as a consequence our proposition has changed to embrace the marketplace with franchises set up with suppliers within the Food to Go sector, like Subway, Costa and Starbucks.”

This adaptable approach has been made possible by the resources within CJ Lang. It currently employs 2,100 staff across Scotland with 300 SPAR Scotland stores in the portfolio.

There is also a strong service ethos in the company that incorporates:

  • Full multi-temperature product range from one depot;
  • State of the art chilled operation – ability to single pick on products as required;
  • Composite deliveries on a bus stop system;
  • Sales development team supporting operations across Scotland;
  • Order fulfilment target of 98 per cent.

The robustness of CJ Lang’s infrastructure and the strength of its offering hasn’t come about by accident, having been gradually built up over the years. Charles J Lang started his involvement in the food industry when he went to work for his uncle’s grocery store in St Andrews. His interest developed and he purchased Max Poulson’s food brokers business in Dundee. Charles J Lang’s son started in the business in 1927 and in 1934 the name of the company was changed to CJ Lang & Son Limited.

Business prospered and the company moved to a variety of different premises in Dundee through the years. In 1960 CJ Lang joined VIVO Group Trading later to amalgamate with SPAR Great Britain in 1975. At this point SPAR Scotland had 102 stores. The next development was that of SPAR Scotland Franchise stores in 1986 and in 1993 SPAR Scotland was born as CJ Lang consolidated its position and acquired the SPAR Franchise for the remainder of Scotland. This period of expansion was completed with the development of a 14.5-acre distribution site at Longtown Road, Dundee.

CJ Lang has continued its dramatic growth with the continued expansion of its retail interests. The company still remains very much a Scottish family owned business and as such is one of Scotland’s largest independent companies.

“Our customer base is the basket shopper or the convenience shopper,” adds Mr McLean. “We’re very often the only store in the communities we serve, so stocking a wide range of produce is important, as well as offering other services like PayPoint, the National Lottery, Post Office services, food to go, coffee, ATM, etc. Post Office services are often particularly crucial given the geographic locations of many of our stores. Our customers, like our staff, are local and as such appreciate the added value we bring to many of the communities we serve.

“In terms of the age range of our customers, this varies greatly depending on the geographic location of each of our stores. Again our flexible approach ensures that we’re able to provide a range of products to suit every requirement. For example, our SPAR brand has over 1,000 lines and delivers over £325m retail sales nationally. It’s an award winning range (90 awards in 2018) and has been named Wholesaler Range of the Year for the last four years.

“We’re proud to be a Scottish company and as such we work with over 150 local suppliers – championing their product range in individual stores where we can. We have dedicated account management looking after all our 300 SPAR store across Scotland. We consider ourselves to be a business partner not a supplier to our retailers.”

With such a collaborative approach, CJ Lang looks well placed to continue standing out in what remains an extremely competitive marketplace. “We need to be different and exploit the USPs that set us apart from the others in the marketplace. Of course there will always be challenges to overcome, such as adapting to changing legislation as seamlessly as possible, but with a new management structure in place we are well prepared to keep the momentum going. The end result remains the same: ensuring we offer a range of great products, sourced as locally as possible, and priced competitively. It’s all about driving customer footfall into our 300 stores by ensuring our product offering and pricing is attractive.

“In addition to this, we like to think we’re part of the communities we serve. Many of our stores are village shops where our staff live and we embrace supporting local charities and community organisations wherever we can, right across Scotland.”

Given its strong infrastructure and internal resources, CJ Lang looks destined to continue building on its already impressive heritage for many more years to come.