Q&A with Lidl's Paul Gibson: Firm with a discount philosophy
Paul Gibson, sales operations executive and head of Lidl Northern Ireland talks company objectives, working with suppliers and unlikely sale items.
How did your career path take you to Lidl?
I joined Lidl as a trainee district manager immediately after graduating from the University of Ulster in Coleraine. I had a placement job during my third year that taught me three things that I wanted from my career – to not sit behind a desk and computer all day, to have as much interaction with people as possible, and to make sure I had plenty of variety and not a strict routine that I had to follow day after day. I applied to work with Lidl with very little work or life experience but thankfully they must have seen something in me they liked and could mould as six years later I'm still here and lucky enough to have progressed too.
Do you have any regrets about anything you've done in business?
I think everyone has regrets – more than we would like – but it's how you learn and react to mistakes that's important. I'm fortunate that along the way I've had people who have taken an interest in me and my career and continue to look out for me, that in itself has prevented many mistakes.
Names the three people to whom you owe your present success.
My father first and foremost. I also owe a lot to Ken McGrath, previous managing director, and Glen Cinnamon, regional director of Lidl Northern Ireland for promoting me to my current position three years ago. However, if it wasn't for the hard work and dedication shown everyday by people that report to me, whether that be the 36 store teams, or the eight sales operations managers, I would have failed a long time ago. You're only as good as the people you surround yourself with.
Do you ever switch off from work? If so, how?
I'm extremely lucky and grateful that I enjoy my job and working for Lidl immensely. I'll admit that I do struggle to turn off completely but when I do turn off, my wife and two young sons, Ryan and Nathan, keep me on my toes, I can assure you.
Does Lidl think the present trend for shoppers to spread their weekly spend will continue? How is Lidl trying to attract spenders?
Lidl is focusing more on educating the Northern Ireland public on our own brand lines and letting them know that we are as good, or better, versus many branded alternatives. Our recent Approved by You campaign results showed this and backs up our claims.
Are there any moves to work with Northern Ireland suppliers?
Yes we work with 35 Northern Ireland suppliers currently – Doherty&Gray, Linden Foods, Dale Farm and Willowbrook Farm in Killinchy to name but a few. We are always open to working with more.
Will Lidl ever move into a more high-end market, or will it stick with its present approach of offering the cheapest shop?
We are a retailer with a discount philosophy so we will always have competitive pricing as our main objective. Our Deluxe range caters to the customer looking for a more premium product.
What's the most unlikely item on sale in a Lidl shop in NI?
In any one week we can have wetsuits to pineapple cutters to night-vision goggles – I don't think there is anything we haven't sold at some stage!
Is Lidl fortunate in that it doesn't have to compete with Aldi in NI because they don't have shops here, unlike in the Republic and UK?
Northern Ireland is just as challenging a market because there is no comparable discount retailer like Aldi so a lot of people are not used to our ways – why we stack this as we do – and don't understand that we are cheap because of the massive efficiencies we run.