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David Banbury, a director of family department store Banburys of Barnstaple, has been made chairman of buying group Associated Independent Stores (AIS). AIS is the largest non-food retail buying group in the UK. The combined annual turnover of all AIS me

David Banbury, a director of family department store Banburys of Barnstaple, has been made chairman of buying group Associated Independent Stores (AIS).

AIS is the largest non-food retail buying group in the UK. The combined annual turnover of all AIS members, including furniture, department stores and specialist retailers is a staggering �1.6 billion a year.

AIS has a retail membership that is quite diverse and ranges from independent High street retailers, including Sports shops, menswear specialists, gift shops and kitchenware shops to large retail groups.

The largest sector of AIS membership is independent department stores and specialist furniture retailers. The majority are still family owned, sometimes having been in the same family for many generations.


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Mr Banbury said: "It is a great honour to have been elected chairman of AIS, which is vitally important to the majority of major independent retailers throughout the UK and Ireland, particularly in these highly competitive times.

"The buying expertise at AIS exceeds anything we could ever hope to achieve on our own and, while the final decision about the merchandise our members choose to stock is entirely up to each member store, AIS is able to provide significant buying power on behalf of the members.

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"The buying group employ specialist buyers who travel the world on behalf of the members to provide the very latest in fashions from Paris and Milan, furniture from Italy and the far East and a whole range of products sourced from all the major suppliers and trade shows throughout the world."

The number of independent department stores had diminished over the years, Mr Banbury said.

" However, despite this, family owned stores are still very much a part of the fabric of many towns throughout the UK.

"This is particularly so in the South West where members of AIS include: Austins (Newton Abbot); Fields (Sidmouth); Banburys (Barnstaple and Tiverton); Wroes (Bude); Chopes (Bideford); Hatchers (Taunton); Goulds (Dorchester); to name but a few.

"Wherever you are in the UK you will probably not be far from an AIS department store, including some of the larger member stores, Beales, (12 stores ) Jarrolds (Norwich) and in particular, Arnotts of Dublin whose turnover is �150million a year."

Furniture specialists included Fairway furniture but even Fairway were dwarfed by the largest furniture member of AIS - Sterling Furniture group had an annual turnover of in excess of �55 million.

The closure of many national retailers including Woolworths, MFI and Rosebys has injected �3.6 billion of available turnover into the retail sector. As a result of this many AIS members are capitalising on this additional business and Mr Banbury reports that childrenswear, toys and haberdashery departments in particular are benefiting from an increase in trade.

He says that membership of AIS has been crucial for Banburys. He goes on to say: when we joined AIS in 1979. At the time of joining Banburys was a family drapery store in Barnsatple. We had a loyal staff of 36 and traded from a shop that was 5000 square feet. Since joining AIS has given Banburys the expertise and confidence to expand their Barnsatple store to 25000 square feet and to have added a specialist furniture business and bought a department store in Tiverton. They now employ in excess of 200 staff and trade from in excess of 50,000 square feet.

In addition to department stores AIS has a growing membership of leading independent furniture stores. 'Whilst the furniture sector has suffered as a result of the down turn in house sales many South West members have responded positively'. They have controlled their costs and taken advantage of AIS buying strength. AIS has a greater buying strength than any other furniture retail group in the UK. This has enabled independent furniture retailers to offer their ranges at a competitive price without compromising on quality. Independent furniture retailers have a reputation to maintain, they have been in business for many years and they mean to stay in business for many years to come and as a result they view quality products, value and the service they can offer as vital to their business. AIS helps them to achieve an edge on quality and price.

Intersport is a sports franchise that is known throughout Europe. David says: AIS purchased the UK rights to the franchise in 2001 and since then the Intersport division

has gone from strength to strength. During a period when major sports retailers reported sluggish trading figures Intersport grew their business by 7%. Intersport fascias can now be seen in 159 locations in the UK. The success of Intersport looks set to continue with the announcement that Greaves of Glasgow, one of the finest sports retailers in the country has joined AIS Intersport.

'Grow' is a specialist garden centre buying group spearheaded by AIS to give help to an industry that is increasingly diversifying into other product areas such as gifts and kitchenwares. David says: If it is not too much of a pun, membership is growing. The largest member at present is the giant Notcutts garden centre group.

Finally, the newest kid on the block is 'plaY-room'. Launched by AIS last June this specialist toy division has already signed up 41 members that trade from a total of 110 outlets. David says: Woolworths had a market share of 11% and as a result of their closure our plaY-room members have reported increases in their business of between 15% and 45%.

At their recent conference, members of AIS reported that whilst the economic crisis has created a challenge for all retailers they were confidant that the independent sector will be well placed to ride out the recession. David said: The recession has concentrated the minds of many retailers. Cutting overhead costs has been a priority and where independent retailers have managed to achieve savings these retailers feel they will emerge from the current recession in a stronger position. Equally, says David, the members of AIS have been thankful for the buying power and additional discounts negotiated by AIS from manufacturers at this difficult time. Turnover and profitability are crucial but never more so than when competition from the multiples and from the internet squeezes the margins of independent retailers. AIS has been able to help with its massive buying power to secure better prices on behalf of it's members. This in turn means that customers benefit from competitive prices.

David says: In a region that has a high concentration of independent retailers per head of population it is good to know that there is a retail organisation that is looking after their needs.

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