Get your store in shape.

The retail landscape is changing – dramatically. To really compete, you need to make sure your store is in the best possible shape.

Shopping habits have shifted during the pandemic, with customers far more likely to opt to shop locally for more frequent top-up shops, but the multiples and discounters alike are ramping up activity to compete.

It’s a challenging time for smaller players but it’s also a huge opportunity. Being local and convenient are two key attributes but to really compete, you need to make sure your store is in the best possible shape.

Partners for Growth, Unilever’s trusted support programme for convenience retailers, can help. Besides free and impartial advice on category management, merchandising and layout, the programme’s Retailer Advisory Panel meets regularly. These experts are experienced, successful retailers at the forefront of developments in the convenience sector, and they want to help their fellow independents innovate and grow their sales.

The panel have focused on today’s big challenges and identified the top priorities for smaller players. Following their clear, easy-to-implement advice is like having your very own team of personal retail ‘fitness trainers.’

  • Have a plan – planning is key to the success of any business, and a business plan should be the foundation. Retailer Advisory Panel member Kishor Patel says: “By putting a business plan in writing, with your objectives, business strategy and action plan clearly laid out, you set yourself a course to follow. It also serves as a valuable business tool to benchmark your achievements against”. Action: If you don’t already have a business plan, download the Business Plan template and get started.
  • Assess the competition – understand who you are competing with and look at what they do well. Remember the competition may vary at different times of the day – in the evenings, for example, you may be competing with a takeaway or chippie for the ‘meal for tonight’ spend. Action: Visit stores or outlets in the area to see what they are doing differently, or chat with other retailers at the cash & carry to understand what works for them.
  • Offer value for money – Price-marked packs, promotions and a range that suits your shoppers can all help but for convenience shoppers, the concept of value is not just about price. Ease of shop, good customer service, a value range, and good stock availability all help to convey a sense of value. ActionWhy not create a value offers/£1 fixture to reinforce the perception of value, and sell through slower sellers at reduced prices?  Additionally, why not run a customer survey to see what your store could also benefit from in order to better suit your shoppers needs.
  • Make the most of staff – Friendly, helpful staff create a positive experience for customers.  Service needs to be quick and efficient but, more importantly, executed with a positive, helpful attitude. And, besides the staff representing the store and its values, they interact daily with consumers and view the store in very different ways from management. Ensure they feel valued, have regular appraisals and listen carefully to their thoughts and ideas. ActionUse the staff appraisal form with your staff, and take the opportunity to get their ideas on improvements.
  • Make the store look great – By having a welcoming, clean, bright store which provides your customers with a pleasant place to shop, they will want to come back. A clear layout, which helps customers fulfil their missions is also crucial. Action: Give your store a spring clean, and view it from a customer’s perspective. Check out the research Unilever did on shopper missions and how to achieve the perfect store to ensure you’re maximizing the layout of your store.
  • Get involved in the community – Boost local customer loyalty by placing the store at the heart of the community. By getting involved in community activities such as summer fairs, a bonfire night or by sponsoring a local football team, you will position yourself at the heart of the community. When shoppers are deciding where to shop, this will be a factor. Action: Ask your customers which events they support, and see how you can get involved – download the Holding Community Events Fact Sheet 
  • Understand your business fundamentals – Make sure you really understand your business’s bottom line – the number of customers per week, average basket spend, gross profit margins and so on. Without those stats, it’s tough to maximise profits. Action: Use till data to work out these key figures and use the Profit Calculator to help you work out crucial profits and margins.
  • Join a symbol group –This can differentiate your store from the competition, raise customers’ quality expectations and the branding can be a magnet. This may not be the way to go if you want to stock large ranges of niche or local products but some groups are recognising that more range flexibility and catering to an area’s demographic can make the shop a ‘destination store’. Action: Have a look around and consider which symbol group best fits your store affluence, location and offering.  Contact two or three symbol groups to see which offers you the best package of support.


Who are the Retailer Advisory Panel?

Launched in 2009, the Retailer Advisory Panel, plays an integral part of the Partners for Growth programme in helping convenience retailers improve their overall business performance, as well as their category performance.

The panel is made up of seven highly experienced, award-winning retailers who represent the spectrum of convenience retailing and meets regularly. They are committed to excellence and work with Partners for Growth to offer fellow independent retailers their invaluable industry, business and retail insights, together with mentoring support.

The award-winning members – David Charman, Dean Holborn, Jonathan James, Ramesh Shingadia, Kay Patel, Kishor Patel and Mandeep Singh – have been selected because they have demonstrated best practice in merchandising and store layout, and are at the forefront of identifying ways to develop the convenience sector.

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Award winning category management advice for growing your sales based on knowledge and insight from Unilever category experts, plus business advice from our Retailer Advisory Panel of award-winning UK convenience retailers.

*Unilever retailer survey