Fermanagh businessman Nigel Bogle has become a key player in the rapidly developing farm shop and deli retail sector, especially in Britain.
Founder and managing director of EPOS Bureau, a pioneering technology company based in Irvinestown, Nigel has seen sales in Britain of its essential management technology grow to around 90 per cent of its overall business.
The small enterprise is now helping farm shops, family butchers, bakeries, greengrocers and delis there compete successfully against supermarkets and other bigger retailers across the United Kingdom.
High profile clients in Britain include the prestigious farm shops at Windsor Castle Estate and Chatsworth Estate, home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.
The company, which employs 16, is assisting the rapid growth of specialist food stores in Britain benefitting from a switch in shopping behaviour as customers turn increasingly to local producers and smaller retailers.
Local farm shops using EPOS Bureau’s advanced technology include the Meat Merchant and McCartney’s in Moira; McKee’s Country Store, near Holywood; and Coleman’s Garden Centre, near Antrim. All four stores enjoyed growth in sales due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns as more shoppers turned to local stores renowned for quality food sourced from suppliers across Northern Ireland.
Research has found that 63 per cent of shoppers in Britain spent an extra 63 per cent at butchers, home bakeries, greengrocers and delis in February compared to the same month last year.
Furthermore, the research also found that almost two-thirds said they would continue to do so.
Nigel, 48, has seen the change in shopping habits at first hand and demand for his bespoke technology has also grown strongly, especially over the past year.
“A strong presence we had developed in Britain before the pandemic has grown exponentially as the specialist stores have increased sales and have been seeking our technology to enable them to optimise the new business,” Nigel explains.
Specialist food stores, he adds, had also become popular because of their unique “customer experience”. “Shoppers were now seeking expert advice from staff about local and different foods and increasingly how these could be used in meals cooked from scratch at home.
“They were keener than ever to know where the food comes from, how it has been produced and increasingly about any allergens,” he explains.
The EPOS Bureau, Nigel says, has spent the past 25 years “looking after some of the most successful farm shops and food businesses across the UK and Ireland”.
“Our success is based on our vast knowledge of food retailing, which enables us to create solutions shaped to the specific needs of individual shops,” he said.
“We look after every aspect of running a farm shop, butchery or deli-style business with the goal of reducing costs and increasing profitability. Working with some of the most successful food retailers gives us unique insight into the sector’s requirements.
“Our expertise enables a food retailer to waste less time on technology and spend more on selling products to customers, because our solutions cover all the business data, including financial reporting and stock, needed to run a successful small business.”
Nigel is especially keen to secure more business here. “Arguably, we’ve gone about things back to front in taking on the market in Great Britain first but it has been an invaluable step in helping us to understand the challenges faced by smaller food retailers,” he said.
“Our role is simple. We exist to make the job of retailers selling food as easy and as profitable as possible. Our till systems enable retailers to inform and educate customers and all whilst keeping an eye on the bottom line,” he adds.
Covid meant that people were now interacting more with retailers and in a different way using online hamper, apps for ordering and e-commerce shops. “Our solution handles all of these things too as part of a single offering,” he adds.
He continues: “Our software and systems are now used by successful food retailers because they provide essential data, including financial control and reporting, full stock management, stock and product labelling, e-commerce links for online sales and links to tills as well as weighing machinery for more effective management of the business.”
Nigel, who had set up a small software venture, Lakeland Computers, in 1997 in Irvinestown, won his first major contract in Britain from Chatsworth Farm Shop on the estate of the Duke of Devonshire in Derbyshire.
He studied at Strabane Grammar School and graduated in computer technology from Nottingham University.
“Chatsworth Estate required a system for the better management of stock and sales at the farm shop that would also link seamlessly to various technologies in the business such as weighing, tills and labelling to reduce costs and increase profitability,” he continues.
Success led to significant business with other farm shops in England.
In 2018, the successful enterprise was rebranded as EPOS Bureau to showcase its core expertise.
An office on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire enables it to seek out new contracts and service existing clients quickly. It now works with farm shops, food halls, garden centres, delis, butchers, cheesemongers, bakeries, greengrocers, coffee shops and restaurants in Britain and increasingly in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
The company continues to enjoy great success in Britain and includes other high profile clients such as cheese experts Neal’s Yard and Paxton and Whitfield, both in London.
A major endorsement of the Fermanagh enterprise’s expertise and customer services was the grant of a Royal Warrant in 2012 from the prestigious Windsor Castle Estate.