The Ideas to Take Away team, sponsored by Cadbury Trebor Bassett, scoured the country looking for retailers who were doing something a little different in their stores - who'd put some extra effort in and had been rewarded for it. Luckily those retailers were keen to share their good fortune with you.
For some it was about stocking new lines, for others it was about new services, and for others it was the simple fact that they knew if they did something for their local community, that community would pay them back by shopping with them.
Obviously not all these ideas will work for you, however they might inspire you to try something that makes your store stand out from the crowd. Here are seven of the best.
The recently-opened Virginia Quay Budgens in London's Docklands is the first in the grocery chain to have its own smoothie bar. Owner Andy Patel explains: "I was wandering around Canary Wharf with my business partner, Hitesh Patel, when we saw a smoothie bar and thought something like that would be ideal for our store. We took the idea to Budgens and they helped us find a supplier - Projuice from Exeter. They supply us with everything - the juicers, the blenders, the fridges, the fruit, the cups and the straws."
Andy says the smoothies are really easy to make. "There's no wastage because all the fruit is frozen and therefore portion-controlled. You are given scoops so you just scoop out what you need. Plus the profits are excellent."
The store offers a wide range of juices and smoothies. There are solo juices - apple, orange and carrot - plus juice blends such as energy boost, which is carrot & orange; and energiser, which is apple, orange, ginger & carrot. The cold buster smoothie is a blend of peach, banana, strawberry & orange while the refresher is strawberry, mango, banana & orange. Also on offer are yogurt and fruit blends.
The juices retail at £1.65 for the regular size and £1.95 for large; smoothies at £1.95 and £2.45 respectively; and the yogurt drinks, £2.25 and £2.75. Says Andy: "We opened the smoothie bar in the winter and were selling 50-60 smoothies a week, but we expect them to really take off once the summer comes."
Travelling post office
Not content with having his own busy post office to run at his Londis store in Lydd, Kent, Suru Patel now takes a post office service to outlying villages on a weekly basis. "Customers used to come in from the villages and say that it was a shame they did not have their own post office any more. That got me thinking," explains Suru. "I thought I could offer a mobile service so I went to the Post Office and they agreed."
Suru's travelling post office now visits villages up to a 20-mile radius around Lydd every week. "Every Tuesday I do four places in one day. I spend a couple of hours in Wittersham village hall, then go on to Brenzett, then Ivychurch and finally Newchurch. In Wittersham I might get 40 people using the service, wanting pensions, banking services, postal, car tax etc. It takes me a whole day out. I take my laptop and printer and have special telephone lines, which are linked in each hall back to my sub post office."
Suru has been approached by two more villages that would like the post office service plus people have been asking for groceries so his enterprise may well extend. He says that so far it has added £8-10,000 a year to his profits, so it's well worth doing. For this extra service the Post Office gives Suru a basic allowance for his travelling and his time, which gets added on to his basic PO units. For security, Suru has a special alarmed James Bond-style case that will explode with dyes if it's separated from him for more than a minute.
Location is everything in retail which is why Chris Attridge has taken advantage of his and is now sub-retailing newspapers to local hotels and warehouses. His store is in the village of Crick, just off the M1 and right next to the Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal. The two local hotels have standing orders with Chris but they also phone in extra orders the night before. But it's the warehouses where the big business is. "We have Eddie Stobart, the Royal Mail and Tesco all up the road. They all have standing orders but their orders are so big now that I'm delivering more papers to the industrial estate than I am to the houses in the village," says Chris.
He drops the papers to the works' canteens, on a sale or return basis. He lost trade when a bypass was built and took traffic away from Crick but has more than made up for that with his sales to the hotels and warehouses. "My newspaper sales have doubled plus I get add-on sales of things like stamps and phonecards," he says.
It takes him anywhere between 30 and 45 minutes to deliver the papers but says it's well worth it for the profits he makes. In addition, a couple of places he delivers to actually pay a delivery charge.
Free publicity Andrew Newton, who has a Nisa Local in the C
hapel Hill estate in Brierley Hill in the West Midlands, has become a past master at drumming up free publicity for his store. He ran a 'free trolley dash' competition in conjunction with his local paper and managed to get £300-worth of publicity almost free. All it cost him was the contents of the trolley. "We budgeted for around £100," says Andrew, "but the dash cost us less than £30 because the winner did not pick up much."
The local paper publicised the competition, giving Andrew one-third of a page of space. He complemented this with a leaflet drop to the local estate. The actual dash was then documented in the paper as well. "The paper's got a big circulation so the publicity definitely brought new people into the store," says Andrew.
He also campaigned to get a post box outside his store. He started by contacting his local councillor and setting up a petition, which attracted 300 signatures. This was sent to the Royal Mail but the application was turned down. He then got the local MP involved and got more signatures - up to 700 this time. The campaign then made it to the local paper. The application went back to the post office and this time was successful.
In-store health check-up
Health is at the top of everyone's agenda nowadays which is why Martin Smyth ran a 'Check-up at the Checkout' day at his Spar store in Belfast. Martin explains: "A health check-up day for men had been tried at the local community centre but only one man had actually turned up so we decided to target the men where they go every day, which was here in the store."
Martin organised the event in association with the East Belfast Community Health Information Project, with the help of men's health organisation, Men to Men. The health checks were carried out in the newspaper and magazine section of the store. "Men always head for the newspapers so it made sense to set it up there," explains Martin.
Blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels were all checked. More than 70 people took part in the health check and some of them were actually referred to their doctors - for complaints they didn't know they had. Everyone who underwent a health check received a free pedometer plus there was a free prize draw to win a DVD player.
The health message was reinforced throughout the store with information about healthy foods such as low fat and high fibre items. Samples of products were handed out and Martin ran special offers.
If anyone knows anything about Polish food then it's Margaret Attridge, who runs Crick Post Office & Stores in rural Northamptonshire with her husband Chris. That's because she's from Poland and therefore has the product knowledge to stock the right lines for her growing Polish clientele.
So nestled among the Heinz baked beans in their shop, you'll find Rajdimpex Kapusta (a combination of white cabbage, sauerkraut and carrot) and Golabki stuffed cabbage. In the chiller next to the Cheddar you'll see Pasztet chicken paté and in the off licence section you'll find Polish beer.
The reason for all these Polish goodies is the Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal (Dirft) just up the road, which has many Poles working there. Polish lorry drivers delivering to Tesco's distribution centre use the store regularly. But it's not only Poles who are buying up the Polish food, the locals are trying them - and liking them - too.
Ready meals are nothing unusual in today's modern c-store but they are if they're home made and that's exactly what Simon Biddle of Biddles Convenience Store in Webheath, Redditch offers. So there's toad in the hole, chilli, shepherd's pie, seafood pie, moussaka and lasagne on offer, to name but a few. Also available are scrummy quiches and top-heavy pizzas. And for those with a sweet tooth there are WI-style cakes including Victoria sponge, coffee & walnut and farmhouse fruit.
Simon employs six people to make the food, which might sound labour intensive and expensive but Simon maintains that the venture is still very profitable, with margins of 40-50%. Plus it's all helped push up average basket spend to £7-8.
"Our best seller is the large steak & ale pie; we probably sell about 120 of those a week. Then it's the shepherd's pie and we sell about 90 of those. We also sell about 60-70 cakes a week."