Semichem to Close “Unviable” Branch in Forfar

The chief executive of Semichem owner Scotmid said “every opportunity” was explored before the decision to close two Tayside branches.

A fortnight ago it was announced Semichem in Forfar’s East High Street and Lochee High Street in Dundee will shut.

The firm said they were “no longer viable” due to ongoing challenges to high street trading, which have been exacerbated by Covid-19. Up to 22 branches of Semichem will close.

John Brodie, chief executive of Scotmid, addressed the Tayside closures as the co-operative’s annual results were announced.

He told The Courier: “It’s always a difficult decision and a last resort – our aim is to keep stores open.

“But sometimes we have to face into tough decisions.

“It was based on the fact there were structural changes happening on high streets before the pandemic hit. The pandemic has accelerated some of those changes.

“Some footfall driving stores in high streets, in shopping centres, they just don’t exist anymore.

“We had a look at the locations we are in and assess if they are viable for the future.

“Then we tried to make arrangements with landlords to help rental costs. We explored every opportunity before we took the tough decision that a store would have to close.”

Mr Brodie said staff would be offered positions in other parts of the Scotmid group, which includes convenience stores, funerals and property.

“There is a normal level of staff turnover in Scotmid food stores,” he added.

“We anticipate that will create some opportunities for us to accommodate as many people as possible.”

He said the company was satisfied that its other Semichem shops would continue to trade profitably.

Scotmid Co-op Society delivered a £6.4 million trading profit for the 53 weeks ended January 30 compared to £5.6m last year. Turnover increased by £24m to £409m.

Mr Brodie said that while food sales increased as more customers shopped locally, there were also higher costs.

There was also more demand for funeral services, but profitability was down partly due to social distancing restrictions.

Meanwhile the company’s property arm saw some tenants default on payments.

“This was a year dominated by the pandemic and the significant but varying impact it has had on our different businesses,” Mr Brodie said.

“Changes in consumer behaviour during the pandemic resulted in an increase in local essential shopping in Scotmid’s food convenience stores.

“Customers visited less frequently, spent more each visit but the costs of operation were significantly more than usual.

“Like many other non-food retailers, Semichem was significantly impacted by the pandemic due to low footfall on high streets and a long period of closure in the first wave.”

“Scotmid Funerals conducted more funerals but at a reduced income per funeral due to safety and social distancing restrictions.”

Mr Brodie said that even as the vaccine rollout continues apace, there was “considerable uncertainty” looking forward.

He said management would adopt a “flexible approach” and focus on matters under its control.

“We are an organisation that’s been around for 160 years and we will continue to follow our core purpose of continuing to serve our communities and improving people’s every day lives.

“I’d also like to praise our society members for the fantastic work they have done in the past year.

“They are unsung heroes for keeping going in uncertain circumstances.”

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