Keep your cool this summer

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As temperatures outside rise, so too can footfall. Here our C-Store Champions explain how they make the most of the summer months

Simon Biddle, Simply Fresh, Redditch, Worcestershire

Simon says the summer is all about barbecue products for him, with shoppers happy to spend

Susan Connolly, four Spar stores in Wiltshire

Susan makes the most of increased demand for soft drinks by raising prices slightly before the summer season begins

Scott Graham, McLeish Inverurie

Local strawberry sales go through the roof at Scott’s store, as do sales of slushies and ice creams

Raj Chandegra, six Londis stores in South and West London

Some of Raj’s stores see sales fall as residents go away on holiday, while others benefit from the tourist trade

How important is the summer as a trading period?

Simon: Summer is a really important time for trade. People tend to be in better moods and tend to be happy to spend a bit more, especially on alcohol and barbecue items.

Susan: It’s vital. Between March and September is the most crucial period of the year and when we have to make the most money in order to make up for the other months. At one store we have the canal nearby so we get a lot of people coming down into the village. At another we get a lot of people passing by on their way to days out.

Scott: It’s the best time of year without a shadow of a doubt. We do our highest sales in the summer weeks – even higher than over Christmas. Thanks to the higher footfall on the street and selling lots of ice cream, slush puppies and soft drinks, we are getting great sales from all the products that provide the highest margins. During that hot weekend we had recently, on the Friday we had the busiest day we’ve had since we opened nine years ago. I think we took something ridiculous like £250 on ice cream and the same on slush, so £500 just from those, and they are providing margins of 70-80%. We barely had time to refill the soft drinks chillers that day, but when you’re making that sort of money you are happy to get in some extra staff hours and we managed to get the staff to come in a bit earlier and leave a bit later just to provide the extra help we needed.

Raj: It’s definitely a very important time of year. It puts smiles onto people’s faces, and obviously with the core of our business being in snacking and impulse items, when the sun comes out the impulse ice cream, light snacks and soft drinks all sell well. By light snacks, I don’t necessarily mean healthy snacks, but cold and smaller snacks such as sandwiches and crisps as opposed to big hot meals. Footfall in the stores goes up in some areas and down in others. In some areas we find that nearly everyone leaves and goes on long four- or six-week holidays, while in other areas there are lots of B&Bs and hotels around so we get the added sales from the tourists.

What are some of the difficulties that come with summer?

Simon: One difficulty is not being able to keep our flowers out the front of the store. We have to move the display inside and have a much smaller range. Also, the fridges and freezers often go down in the summer, which can be a headache. When we refitted the store four years ago we got new fridges and freezers and a maintenance contract which covers two services a year and callouts – we just pay for labour and parts. If there’s any problem they will usually come out within six hours. It’s worth spending a bit more on this equipment and paying for an annual maintenance contract – mine costs £400 a year and I think it’s well worth it.

Susan: Finding the space to stock everything we want to stock for the season. We have lots of barbecue products and special deals and we have to try to cram in something for everybody. We also have to make sure all the beer and wine is chilled, because we know that’s not something that Tesco does. If someone is on their way home from work and fancies a nice cold beer in the garden in the evening then they will pop into us rather than a mult.

Scott: The heat in the shop. Because it’s quite an old building it gets very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer, especially with our two big windows across the front wall which let the sun shine onto our food-to-go chillers. The fridges are working ultra-hard and we are constantly keeping an eye on the temperatures of the chillers. There’s not much we can do other than use our air-conditioning units which I keep upstairs for particularly hot days. We place one by the deli and the other by the counters.

Raj: It can be very hard to predict what the weather is going to do and how many customers you’re going to get. If you have a whole week of hot weather it can be hard to keep up with the sales of soft drinks and ice cream. Keeping up stock levels and keeping shelves stocked up throughout the day is a challenge. It’s particularly difficult with frozen products as you obviously need the freezer space to be able to keep a back-up supply.

Have you introduced any new products or services to capitalise on the summer market?

Simon: We increase our ranges in all those fastest-selling categories and we get in a lot of local products and barbecue meats such as marinaded meats and chicken skewers which we don’t sell at all during the winter.

Susan: We are going to introduce a slush machine in our flagship store as these offer a very high margin and are cheaper than an ice cream, so should be popular. We also do a lot more cross-merchandising in the summer to encourage people to spend more. For example, we put straws with the soft drinks and put up a sign in the alcohol category reminding people to get ice. We also have a table with all the barbecue products on so everything people might need, including things they may not have planned to buy, is in one space.

Scott: We change the meal deal to include a whippy ice cream instead of crisps. We also sell a lot more fruit pots in the food-to-go section.

Raj: It all depends on what’s new on the market each year as to what I start to stock. In winter we cut right down on impulse ice creams so we have about eight to 10, whereas in the summer we have about 20.

Do you plan to host any events over the summer holidays?

Simon: We don’t really host any in our store as it’s too small to do that, but we like to support other local events. There tend to be some fêtes taking place so we will sell raffle tickets and provide prizes. It’s good to show that we care and it’s good to have our name included on the leaflets that are sent around the area.

Susan: There’s the Pewsey Carnival in September, which is basically just a big booze festival. There’s a wine race and a beer race. We always support that. It’s Spar’s 60th birthday this year and it’s celebrating with a big campaign which started in June. It encompasses the Shop to Win competition and will allow us to create lots of theatre in- store. We’ll take photos of the winners of the competition and create a good atmosphere. As part of those celebrations we are also hosting a Fifties weekend where we will all dress in Fifties outfits and we’ll sell lots of retro products.

Scott: We don’t have much space in the store and it’s difficult to get permission to host events on the street, but I would like to hold a barbecue out the front of the store if I can get permission. I would work with my local butcher to do this.

Raj: Not really. In some of the communities where we have stores they will host events locally and so we will take part and help out, but we don’t host any ourselves. The difficulty for us when it comes to hosting events in the holidays is staffing.

How do the summer holidays affect your staffing levels? Are people more or less keen to work? Do they become more or less reliable?

Simon: That’s always a problem because everyone wants to go on holiday at the same time. Generally, though, my team is pretty flexible and happy to work around one another so they aren’t all away at the same time. Usually, if they want to cancel a shift then they will get someone else to cover them before they even speak to me. This saves me the worry of having to get cover.

Susan: We have a rule that no two members of staff can be on holiday at the same time and we’re lucky in that our staff will always pick up extra hours to cover other people’s shifts so it doesn’t cause us any problems.

Scott: For us it works really well. We have a seven-week window for the school holidays so I find most of the daytime girls want to go on holiday with their children and then the evening staff, who are students, then want lots of extra hours so they offset each other. The difficulty comes when the students go back to their new school year and their classes have all changed and I have to change the rotas around.
Raj: Generally, we can move staff across the chain of stores and so balance out any vacancies. In some stores we might have lots of team members who are parents and in others we might barely have any, so it tends to even itself out. Those of us who can work tend to have to work harder and longer hours to make up for anyone missing. If it were the case that we couldn’t move members of staff around then we could get some student workers in just for a few months to cover the holiday season.

Are you planning to take a holiday this year?

Simon: Yes, we are going on a one-week cruise to Croatia. We’ve just managed to slot in a week in between the staff holidays. We’ll probably take another two-week break in October, when it’s less busy.

Susan: No. I could if I wanted to, but because I’m always here, there and everywhere as part of my job I still feel like I’ve got away. It’s not a good time for me to go away as we’ve just opened the flagship store and it’s taken up more of my focus than expected as it’s doubled in size and been a mammoth task.

Scott: Yes, we’re going to Mallorca for two weeks in August.

Raj: Yes. I am going to take a couple of weeks off before the school holidays begin. I haven’t had a holiday for six months so I think it’s overdue. I always like to go outside of peak season as I don’t want to go somewhere that’s packed with people – I want to be somewhere quiet where I can relax.

Which categories will see the biggest uplift in sales and how will you tap into that?

Simon: Barbecue meats, soft drinks, ice creams and alcohol.

Susan: Definitely chilled, as people start to eat more fresh food and less hot meals. Also alcohol, ice creams and soft drinks. The most popular soft drinks in the summer are water and zero-sugar variants. Our most popular soft drink is the Monster Ultra drink. We put the prices of soft drinks and ice creams up by 10p because we know that people will pay more for them. You have to put them up before the hot weather kicks in, however, otherwise people will notice you’ve put them up just because it’s hot - about March 1 is the best time to do it. But we’ll still do promotions as well so we have the appearance of being good value for money - for example, we do a bottle of Coke for £1.29, or two for £2.

Scott: Other than soft drinks, slush and ice creams, the cold food to go is very popular throughout the summer. It’s good that we have the deli so that we can keep producing more products to keep up with the sales. The deli girls worked very hard on that hot Sunday recently. Also soft fruits such as strawberries and raspberries sell quickly.

Raj: Soft drinks and ice cream.top tips

What one simple method would you recommend to boost footfall and sales this summer?

Simon: Keep up your stock of soft drinks, alcohol and ice cream and try to stay ahead of the game because it can get to the point where the supplier has had so many orders that they run out of certain lines, or their deliveries get delayed. Stock up in advance on any products that have a long shelf life; ice cream is something you can stock up on, assuming you have freezer space out the back.

Susan: Make sure you have an offering fit for the summer. This involves looking at the whole offering and taking out the slow lines to replace them with something different that’s appropriate for the summer and that will sell quicker.

Scott: Look at locally-sourced soft berry fruits. We get strawberries from just two miles from the shop and sell about 80 punnets a day in the summer. We buy them for £1.60 each and sell them for £2.60 each.

Raj: Make sure you have plenty of soft drinks and ice cream and ensure all the drinks - alcoholic and non-alcoholic - are ice cold. We turn down the fridges by two degrees to make sure the drinks feel ice cold. It costs a bit of extra money, but it’s worth it to encourage people to buy from us rather than the next store. The fridges and freezers can often pack up, but I get a service just before summer and a service after summer and that’s the best I can do to try to avoid any problems.

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  • Summer
  • Simon Biddle owner Biddles Convenience Store
  • Susan Connolly
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  • Raj Chandegra
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