In this article we interviewed Mike Higgins, our Senior Account Manager, as May 2023 marks his 17th year working at RMS and it’s the month Mike will be taking his well earned retirement!
As one of our longest-serving employees, Mike completely epitomises the company's core value of loyalty, with 17 years devoted to supporting RMS to become the business it is today.
By looking back over the last 17 years, we see how RMS has grown from humble origins to the business as it is known today and find out what he thinks the future holds for the company and the retail industry.
How did you end up joining RMS?
I’ve always worked within retail and have had two employers over the past 39 years. Not long after starting as a trainee manager with Kwiksave back in 1984, I was asked to cover managing the store of a senior store manager that was renowned for his high standards and unique management style. Fortunately for me, I looked after his store for two weeks and he was happy on his return. That was the start of a long personal and professional relationship with Peter O’Toole.
Peter continued to be very influential on me as my career within Kwiksave progressed to the positions of Training Manager, Refit Manager, and Area Manager. After Somerfield took over Kwiksave in 1998, I continued to manage Somerfield stores up until being made redundant in 2006 due to store closures.
Peter, who had also experienced redundancy from Somerfield, asked me to join him in his new venture he had set up, RMS. I was grateful for the opportunity and agreed to help him temporarily until I found something more permanent…I’m still here and the rest is history!
How has RMS changed over the years?
Wow…how our business has changed over the years! I can remember the early days operating from a small industrial unit aka 'the tin shack'. Our only contract was the conversion of larger Kwiksave stores to the Somerfield brand. We initially recruited the old refit team and experienced store staff that had left Kwiksave (some of these guys are still with us today) to deliver our service. I recall us few managers working from a desktop computer and scheduling our teams using a drywipe whiteboard. As Peter continued to secure new clients through sheer persistence and determination, we managed to increase and upskill our field-based teams as well as relocate to a new well-equipped office in Newport.
We've come such a long way from our first project to the many retail partners we work with today offering a full retail support solution.
One of the biggest changes in how we used to operate, to how we now manage the business, was the introduction of our automated scheduling tools, from a highly labour-intensive paper-based system that used to include the famous wall-mounted dry wipe boards, to our current workforce management tool, flex™, that revolutionised the way we worked.
Over the past 17 years, I’ve seen many changes in both our management and field-based operations. I’ve been fortunate to work with some fantastic people that have contributed to the success of RMS.
How has the retail landscape changed over the years?
Advances in technology have obviously drastically changed the way consumers shop, both in store and online.
Although consumer shopping habits have changed over the years, some seem to have taken a full circle. When I started my retail career in the 1980’s Kwiksave, with an overall market share of around 10%, was a dominant force within the grocery retail sector. The current cost of living crisis and the need for convenience and value for money has strengthened the position of today’s hard retail discounters such as Aldi and Lidl.
What has been your biggest achievement whilst working for RMS?
The biggest achievement has to be the success of RMS within Tesco. Following on from Peter hounding Tesco for around two years they decided to give us a trial in 2010. Peter, in his words, had done the hard work, then handed the challenge over to me.
After delivering a small new store opening, Tesco set us the challenge of our first full refresh - the biggest refit they had planned in years. I can recall the Senior Project Manager telling me that if we can deliver this project, we will be rewarded with a contract. As the store was located in Cornwall and the requirement was 120 people on the day shift and 80 on nights, this proved to be a huge logistical challenge. We selected the best that RMS had to offer and arranged for 3 coaches to transport the teams from South Wales and beyond. After a tough two weeks, the same Tesco Project Manager was true to his word and awarded us the contract.
Since then, over the past 15 years, we have continued to work closely with Tesco, developing and growing our partnership with them.
What has been the biggest challenge whilst working for RMS?
The biggest challenge, without a doubt, was sadly dealing with the sudden passing in 2015 of our founder and chief, Peter O’Toole. Peter had built RMS from scratch and without his leadership, many people felt uncertain about the future of RMS.
Fortunately for us, his two sons, Daniel and Connah, through energy and vigour stepped up to lead us to the successful business we are today.
What are your thoughts on the future of the retail industry?
I believe that the future of the retail industry will be determined by the redevelopment of our high streets. Although the threat from out-of-town retail parks and the internet has forced many high street stores out of business, they will recover and return through the support of local town and city planners.
The encouraging fact for companies, RMS included, is that even with all of the world's modern technology developments, retailers will always require people to support them with change.
What will you miss the most about working for RMS?
RMS has been a major part of mine and my family's life for the past 17 years for which I am extremely grateful. It has provided myself and so many others with the opportunity of a rewarding career in retail. I will miss being a key part of a successful team and the everyday professional and personal communication with colleagues who are also good friends.
I've been very fortunate to know and work with many talented people over the years that have contributed to the success of RMS. I know that Peter would be extremely proud that his sons have remained committed to the further growth of the company and that they have established RMS as one of the UK's leading retail support service providers.
“The business will certainly feel different without Mike around! He has been such a loyal employee to the business and a major supporter and friend of the entire O’Toole family. He has brought a level of integrity and loyalty to the business that dad would have been extremely proud to have continued to witness - especially since dad’s sad passing in 2015 - where his unwavering support to my brother and I helped secure and grow dad’s legacy further.
As we continue to nurture and develop the Tesco partnership, which has been such a big part of his role over the last 15 years, the whole team at RMS will wish Mike well in his next chapter - where he’s likely to be spending more time walking the mountains of Bannau Brycheiniog and spending more time with his lovely family. Thanks for everything Mike - Murph and I will see you in the mountains!”
-Daniel O’Toole, CEO