Store manager

Ben Taw: How Our Grocer 33 Store Manager of the Year Was Emotional and Operational | Analysis and Features

Ben Taw almost followed a very different career path. After leaving school with three GCSEs, he was set to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the army. Then he received a call from Sainsbury’s offering him a position as night manager. “From that moment on, I never looked back,” says Taw.

Thus began a passion for retail that culminated last week in winning Store Manager of the Year at The Grocer Gold awards. It’s been quite a year for the 38-year-old, navigating with his team through the challenges of Covid, both operationally and emotionally.

It turned out that running a store during the pandemic wasn’t as far removed from the military as one might imagine. Taw quickly recognized that an acronym used by the U.S. military seemed equally suited to the challenge of running a store during the pandemic: “VUCA” – a situation characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

In such situations, communication is key. Taw therefore set out to ensure that his team at the Sainsbury’s Farlington branch in Portsmouth, which he ran at the time of the outbreak, were well informed.

Watch: Highlights from the 2021 Grocer Gold Awards

“I set up a Covid task force and said every issue was going through us,” he recalled, Taw the top leader. The information would range “from Boris’s announcement, to company policy, to me” – meaning any rumors or misunderstandings were quickly quashed.

This proved particularly helpful when the local newspaper ran a story about the Farlington store at the start of the first lockdown, claiming two of its employees had contracted Covid and more than 50 were self-isolating as a result.

“That couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Taw. Still, “the magnitude of the misinformation” meant he needed to act quickly – speak to the press and colleagues, and reiterate the store’s commitment to safety.

Safety first

Safety was of course a priority for the store at that time. In terms of Covid measures, Taw was keen to go “beyond what was required”. But there were also plenty of operational challenges to consider.

Across the grocery store, there has been a massive shift to online commerce – and the Farlington store was no different. “We doubled our online operation,” recalls Taw. “We went from four vans to 10 vans in the space of a few months, which is a huge increase.

And of course, the way customers bought in-store was different. Sainsbury’s SmartShop app, which allows customers to scan and pay for purchases without going through checkouts, has suddenly taken off. “Before Covid, 13% of shoppers used it, and that jumped to 50% at the height of the pandemic, all because we geared the messaging around safety,” he says.

To cope with the changes, Taw trained the team to have skills “in all the different channels and areas of our business” – which proved particularly important when some colleagues had to isolate themselves or protect.

Where Taw has really come into its own, however, is in the area of ​​mental health. As Store Manager, he was well aware of the impact of the pandemic on the well-being of the team – and he was keen to offer his support where possible. To start, he set up regular “Your Mind Matters” sessions to talk about mental health. Attendance grew from three to 10 colleagues as word spread.

On a less formal basis, Taw made sure to check on team members regularly. In the store environment, he was always available to talk. For co-workers who couldn’t enter the store — either because they were shielding or self-isolating — Taw was hosting regular video calls. That dedication showed on Christmas Day, when the father-of-four took the time to video call all of his colleagues who were spending the day alone.

This focus on mental well-being is Taw’s proudest achievement over the past year. “Some of the stories you hear from colleagues, you sit there and think, ‘Wow, how do they even come to work?'” So for him, continuing to provide that support will be vital as he progresses in his career. career.

As for the next steps in his professional life, Taw is open to new opportunities. He became store manager of Sainsbury’s Godalming, Surrey, in April and wants to move on to ‘bigger and better things’.

And no matter what, he plans to keep asking himself a key question: “What am I doing today to make me better tomorrow?”

Emma WeinbrenEmma Weinbren is an editor at The Grocer. As the Editor’s second-in-command, Emma is responsible for the day-to-day management of The Grocer in print and leads The Grocer’s Features Office.

Emma won the PPA New Talent Award for New Editor of the Year in 2016. Prior to joining The Grocer in 2016, Emma was an assistant and editor at Chemist+Druggist, a weekly magazine and website for British pharmacists.

Follow Emma on Twitter: @EmmaWeinbren