Craig Travers has been involved in the supermarket industry since high school. Nowadays the owner of Four Square Fairlie takes great pride in serving the mid-Canterbury community – like generations of grocers before him.
There have been countless careers in New Zealand launched off the back of stacking shelves at the local supermarket.
For Dunedin-born, Invercargill-raised Craig Travers, his first employer at the tender age of 16 was the local PAK’nSAVE. Little did he know that the supermarket industry would provide his career path and ultimately his own business.
In 2000 Craig secured a position at New World Wanaka with more responsibilities, such as ordering, forklift operation, alcohol sales, and a duty manager’s position. He was also given the opportunity to participate in Foodstuffs Academy Programme.
Three years later, a desire for a change in location took Craig to New World Mosgiel in Dunedin, where he discovered a passion for fresh foods – specifically fruit and vegetables – and a desire to operate his own store.
The next rung on the ladder was a produce retail support adviser position at Foodstuffs South Island in Christchurch, supporting produce managers and store owners. Then, as produce retail operations manager, Craig looked after all retail operations including promos, new product development and strategic objectives.
His star was rising. When the chance to purchase Four Square Fairlie came up in June 2015, the then 34-year-old grabbed it with both hands.
Craig and wife Chloe arrived in Fairlie, population 4,158 (including surrounding Mackenzie District), when son Freddie was just ten weeks old and daughter Hazel, two-and-a-half.
“I completely underestimated the challenges of taking on a new business while having a young family,” Craig recalls.
Almost overnight he was expected to have all the answers for his 24 staff. “I became a butcher, baker, even an expert in HR.
“But I’m a big believer in finding people who know what I don’t and, thankfully, through my connections at Foodstuffs, I was able to seek advice and support from other owner operators.”
Craig was grateful for his many years of industry experience, as well as the ongoing support of the local community, and of Foodstuffs South Island, which had invested in his personal development through its training academy.
When he first arrived in Fairlie, Craig noticed that many locals travelled to Timaru, a 45-minute drive, to shop at one of the larger supermarkets. So he set about running his Four Square to attract them back.
“A large part of what I’ve done is simply listen to my customers to get a better understanding of their needs and requirements,” explains Craig. “To gain an appreciation of community needs I listened to my staff, neighbours, friends, the local mechanic, builder, coffee barista and school students.
“Our staff have an incredible amount of knowledge to draw from. They’ve lived in this community for generations and collectively have decades of experience in our supermarket.”
Being available and approachable is also important, says Craig. He enjoys talking to other business owners; learning about their areas of expertise, and the environment and team culture they’ve developed. “It’s about understanding what makes them so successful and, if possible, adapting that to my own business.”
Time management has been a challenge. Craig admits he’s the sort of person who wants to do everything now and everything to perfection.
“For a while there I was literally polishing plums! Thankfully I have an amazing team who are capable of taking on more responsibility and now manage their own areas of the store, enabling me to better manage my time.”
Sales have grown significantly under Craig’s watch and on the back of regional economic growth. The average spend on transactions is up more than 25 percent, he says.
“Part of that growth is due to implementing my own ideas; following them through from conception. Sometimes the outcomes are not what you expect. But you learn from the negative as well as the positive.”
There have been many improvements made to the store. The exterior has had a complete makeover, and there’s a special emphasis around promoting fresh foods, including the establishment of an in-store butchery.
Craig’s main project has centred on produce – specifically range, quality and value for money. Stand-out seasonal product promotions have not gone unnoticed by customers – such as the export-grade Central Otago cherries just prior to Christmas.
Other initiatives include a food catering service; a nationwide floral delivery service; a bicycle home delivery service; extensive craft beer and wine selections; healthy ‘food to go’ options; plus barista-made coffee and fresh sushi made in-store.
Nothing escaped Craig’s attention – product range, presentation, and a new back-end technology platform which can, for example, identify ‘non-performing’ products, have all been priorities.
“Every week we review an area of the store; looking at range, presentation, location or even simply challenging the way we do things.”
While Craig’s supermarket provides one massive portal to the community, Chloe’s GP practice provides another. Her passion for medicine is just as strong as Craig’s passion for the grocery business.
Thankfully, the couple quickly mastered the art of balancing family and business. “Other than key periods such as long weekends, Easter, Christmas and New Year, we both have weekends off,” says Craig.
“This enables us to have quality family time and enjoy this stunning part of the country.”
His advice for other business owners is to simply make time for your family.
“It won’t make itself!”
Great times, big dreams
Life in Fairlie has had it’s moments. The Wednesday after taking over the businesses, heavy snow cut the town’s power for 24 hours. Locals were allowed to take what they needed, and pay later.
“It was incredibly stressful,” says Craig. “But we knew we’d arrived at a pretty special community when every single person came back and paid in full by the close of business Friday.”
The town’s 150th Anniversary last year was a special time. A Ford Model T displayed in the supermarket proved to be a powerful magnet – particularly for male shoppers.
As far as Craig’s concerned, Four Square Fairlie is still a work in progress. He enjoys his role, and his involvement in the community, but admits he would love to eventually own and operate a larger supermarket.
He’ll also continue to actively support Chloe’s career.
And, just quietly, he’d be chuffed if little Hazel or Freddie grew up to one day take over the family store.