It’s no secret that the retail environment is a challenging one these days, but there’s always opportunity for a canny independent convenience operator to flourish.
The key, say the members of Partners for Growth’s Retailer Advisory Panel, is creating a USP and making your store stand out from the crowd. The Retailer Advisory Panel is made up of highly experienced and successful retailers who are innovators in the field and who are keen to share their advice and tips with fellow retailers.
“Stores need to become a destination,” says Kishor Patel “And it’s important to keep evolving and reinventing the store. This means keeping up with trends and being alert to what works for others.”
So, how do you make your store stand out from the crowd?
1. Stock local produce
- You don’t want too many offerings in a smaller store but you do want something that’s special. Interest in food provenance and food miles has soared, as people like to know that they’re supporting local producers.
- Bread, milk, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables are the obvious categories to consider but don’t forget soft drinks and beer – craft ale, for example, is growing in popularity and can achieve a 35%-40% margin. Pickles, honey, cakes and pasties might also be worth thinking about.
- Visit food shows or markets and check out local producers.
2. Consider exclusive or premium lines
- A range of premium products could give real impact. Retail Advisory Panel member David Charman says the butcher’s counter at his Spar forecourt store in Parkfoot, Kent gives a high-end feel to the store. “You want customers to feel the impact as soon as they walk through the door,” he says. “And, when they see the butcher’s counter, they know the store is something special.”
3. Try a range from overseas
- Depending on your customer demographics, a range from Poland, India, the Caribbean, South Africa etc might give you an edge. Or you could try ‘European’ or ‘Mediterranean’ for a broader appeal.
- And why not try American lines? Stocking items such as authentic candy or canned pumpkin, for example. Doing this would give you an opportunity to make something out of American celebrations such as Independence Day or Thanksgiving, as well as British ones.
4. Add extra services
- Retail Advisory Panel member Mandeep Singh, of Singh’s Premier, Sheffield, added a Costa coffee machine and food-to-go section to grab workers on their way into work and has boosted the average morning spend by approximately 50%.
- Consider using up your potential food wastage into meals. Meat and fish potential wastage can be made into pies, for example, or chicken cooked and used in salads. One enterprising retailer employs local school dinner ladies to make meals in the mornings before they do their school shift.
- Could you sell Christmas turkeys? Liaise with a local butcher for supply and take pre-orders, along with a deposit
5. Re-think the way you do a category
- Changing things around could create a point of difference and drive footfall instore. For example, bringing the bouquet-making aspect of the flower category in-house has enabled Retail Advisory Panel member Dean Holborn to keep costs down. “We have to purchase more stock but this has meant bigger profits,” he says.
- Switching to a new supplier has also increased his margin in the category by 20% to 60%. And a new supplier might also bring other benefits – Dean’s was also able to do early deliveries and deliver six days a week.
6. Create specific instore zones
- You may not be able to refit the store but you could create a kids’ zone to attract new customers. Mandeep Singh has done that in his store, including a self-service ice slushy drinks machine where kids can help themselves. “It gives the store a family feel and we’ve found that kids are bringing their parents in at weekends,” he says. “And of course, families buy all sorts of other things when they pop into a convenience store.”
- A bargain area or ‘£1 zone’ might also be a draw in your area.
7. Focus on great customer service
- Make sure your staff offer great customer service as that alone can help make your store a destination for many shoppers.
Retail Advisory Panel member Ramesh Shinghadia warns that differentiating your store from your competition is not something that will happen overnight: “Creating a USP does require time and dedication,” he explains. “You have to be hands-on and you have to keep evolving. Do your homework. Find what’s already available in your area and what works, match your plans to your customers. What works in one store might not in another.”