Summer can be big business for c-stores, but each year brings surprises. Our C-Store Champions discuss what’s new in their coolbox of tricks
Kay Patel, owner of Best One and Global Food and Wine in Wanstead, East London
Dedicated displays help Kay increase basket sales over the summer
Dave Hiscutt, manager of Londis Weymouth
A seaside location means ice cream is a winner at Dave’s store when the sun shines, and free-from ice cream is his latest must-stock item
Jai Singh, owner of MJ’s Go Local Extra in Wheata Road, Sheffield
Jai is increasing his chilled range and the number of spirits he offers, to maximise any spike in footfall
Gareth Hooton, owner of Hooton’s Best-one store in Golborne, Wigan
Summer is Gareth’s favourite season and he is looking to cash in on high-margin products such as slush
Are you looking forward to the summer season and the school holidays? How does this season affect your business?
Dave: The summer is huge for us as we are on the seafront in a very touristy town. We are non-stop, especially with our dedicated ice cream parlour next to the store and all the extra tourists that come to the seaside. We get a huge uplift in sales. On the sunny early bank holiday Sunday alone we had more than 1,000 unique transactions.
Kay: It’s a very important time of year for the business. We get an increase in footfall inside and outside the store and tend to get new customers coming into store in the summer simply because people are out and about more than usual, or on holiday visiting the area. All the high-profit lines start to sell such as the alcohol, soft drinks and slushies. We will get a 15-20% uplift in sales throughout the summer months, but on the really hot days we’ll get a 30% uplift. Slushies are a fantastic high-margin product. In some stores we have two barrels and others we have three. In those with three barrels we will have the strawberry and blueberry flavours, and then we’ll get interesting flavours to put in the third barrel. This year we’ve already ordered a pina colada flavour and a lime & chilli flavour ready for the summer. It’s good to get four flavours and rotate between them to keep it interesting.
Jai: In summer you always see an uplift. People are in a better mood, they are out and about. You sell a lot more soft drinks, slushies, ice cream, fresh meat for barbecues, alcohol, and even fresh produce goes better because people are eating more salads. People don’t want to go into a big supermarket and queue up when it’s nice and sunny outside; they want to get in and out quickly. More people pick up baskets in the summer and basket spend increases. We see it as an opportunity to showcase our store and show people what they can get when they shop with us. We usually spend January and February, in the anti-climax of Christmas, remerchandising the store in preparation for the summer uplift.
Gareth: I think that summer is the best season of them all. It gets people out of their homes, on foot, into the store. It obviously drives ice cream, slush and soft drinks sales, which are all high-margin products, and it just makes everyone happy and therefore more willing to spend their money. Slush always goes well for us; we will soon run out of the blue variant so we’ll replace that with the sour apple flavour, which is a popular flavour and a good refreshing one for the summer.
In what ways do you change your store in preparation for the summer?
Dave: We bring in some more of the touristy bits such as sticks of rock, local biscuits and boxes of fudge. We like to dedicate a bay to this and do a decent range, but we also don’t like to take over our store with it as we still need to cater to our locals. We also make sure we are well stocked on soft drinks, ice creams and alcohol. We have a big selection of craft beer and we slightly increase this range for the summer. We’ll also make sure we have plenty of disposable barbecues and charcoal and everything needed for barbecues.
Kay: We got a new range of Best-one barbecue meats in for the summer, which did well over the hot early bank holiday weekend. They are ready-marinaded meats that you can stick straight on the grill.
Jai: This year we have worked to increase our chilled range and we’ve increased the space dedicated to spirits, as we’re finding those are going well. Vodka is popular and gin is incredibly popular, so we wanted to get in more of the different flavours available. We’ve also reviewed our soft drinks range due to the sugar tax. We’ve found that water and flavoured waters are both very popular so we’ve increased the range of those. We were also told that some bottles of water don’t sit very well in the cup holders on gym equipment at the local gym and apparently Evian bottles are the perfect fit, so we got those in.
Gareth: We stock up on ice cream and soft drinks and all the summer products. Last year we started stocking multipacks of ice creams, which have been very popular. I think this is because they are much better value for money than buying the impulse ice creams seeing as the multipacks are about £2 and a single Magnum sells for £1.80. Oreo Cones are among the best-sellers in the multipacks and they are pricemarked at £2.
What displays do you plan to put up in the summer and why?
Dave: I don’t tend to plan many displays for summer, just because we are always so busy it’s not really the time of year that we need to do that kind of thing.
Kay: We are always messing about with different display and merchandising ideas. We will trial different secondary sitings on gondola ends to try to capture the spirit of the season by displaying beers, snacks and soft drinks in one place. It’s important to do this to increase basket spend and impulse purchases. For the royal wedding we put up displays with flags, bunting and prosecco. These sorts of displays tend to work well in influencing people’s spending, as without them people can easily forget items. I know on pancake day we get a lot of people in saying ‘Oh, is it Shrove Tuesday?’ and then end up buying all the ingredients.
Jai: We try to put packs of beer in a prominent position and create the full barbecue display. I’ve been watching what Mital [Morar] is doing at his Ancoats General Store in Manchester and I think it’s brilliant, so I will be taking inspiration from him in the future. The things he does are very simple, but very effective, such as the way he creates his own POS. He uses glass pens to write on his beer fridges. I’ve got a few creative members of staff so I’d like to let them use that creativity around the store.
Do you plan to bring in any new products that you expect will sell particularly well in summer?
Dave: I do feel that this year is the year of the food intolerance, as all the products that are coming onto the market and trending are the free-from products. I think free-from ice cream is a big thing now, plus low- and no-alcohol seems to be much more popular. I recently started selling Budweiser Prohibition and that has been selling a lot quicker recently and it actually sold out once so I need to keep on top of that, especially in the summer when I expect it will sell better with people doing more afternoon drinking. Slushies will be really popular this year; they always are.
Kay: We want to get in a whippy ice cream machine. It’s a pain to clean, but the profit margin is immense and so it would be well worth it.
Jai: My wife ordered crushed ice recently, which I wasn’t certain about, but it’s been really popular. I guess people like buying it for making easy summer mocktails and cocktails. We’ve increased our range of canned pre-mix drinks as they go really well in the summer. Our butcher makes a really popular barbecue meats pack which contains two chicken wings, two drumsticks, two kebabs and two burgers, and these are a great way to get a good variety of meat without the waste.
Gareth: I’d really like to get one of those Snowshock Frappino iced coffee machines in store. I’ve tried the drinks a few times and I like them and definitely think they’d sell well. The only problem is that it’s a very tall unit and I’m not sure where I would put it. I will find somewhere for it, though. It would also be good to offer the flavoured syrups and whipped cream. There’s no waste involved with the offer and the profit margins are excellent. I think it would work throughout the winter, too, as I sell a lot of the Starbucks Iced Coffees throughout the year.
What do you dislike about summer?
Dave: The only thing I could say is that this time of year does lead to a large number of people using your store who aren’t locals and this tends to be the time of year when people start trying their luck with scams. It’s also the time when we have a lot more younger staff working as they are on their summer holidays, so they might be considered more vulnerable and less likely to question suspicious people. It’s a shame to have to mention it, but it is naturally something that increases when you have more non-regular customers coming from outside the area.
Kay: People go away and the kids are off school so that’s a huge number of regular customers lost. I also find that people get over summer after a short period of time. The first weekend of sun is always manic as everyone wants to make the most of the sunshine. Some people who don’t even like ice cream will buy it just because it hasn’t been sunny for so long and they feel that’s what they should do. After a few weeks people aren’t so fussed.
Jai: The warm weather tends to mean more daytime drinking and it can lead to a rise in drunk and abusive customers. It can also lead to groups of teens loitering around the store and littering.
Gareth: I can’t think of anything bad. It a bit of a juggling act with staff taking holidays, but that’s not a big problem. I’d just say the season isn’t long enough!
Bank holiday winners
How was the sunny early bank holiday weekend for business? What were the fastest sellers?
Dave: It was very, very good, extremely good; I was knackered by the end. Ice cream went very well, as did our range of American soft drinks. We sold £1,026.93-worth of those over the three days. Wall’s brought out a Swedish Glace caramel toffee cone which is vegan, gluten-free and nut-free. I put a picture of it on my Facebook page and the traction we got on it was amazing. I ordered a case just to see how it would go and it went so quickly - 48 sold over a couple of days - that we got another in. That’s promising for the summer and I’ll continue to stock it. It makes sense to take out one line to offer a product that has the ability to appeal to a whole new audience. When I saw how excited people were getting about it on Facebook I really couldn’t believe it.
Kay: We had a good bank holiday weekend.
Jai: A big surprise was the amount of extra fresh fruit and veg that we sold. We also sold a lot more ready meals. I guess this was due to people wanting to sit out in their gardens until later in the evening and wanting something that was easy to eat out in the garden.
Gareth: The bank holiday at the beginning of May was very good, although our chiller did break down so we had to be without that for the whole weekend. It was very frustrating as it meant we didn’t do as well as we could have done, especially after looking forward to that weekend. We kept everything that was in the chiller out the back and had to keep going back and forth to get items for shoppers. The freezers were still working, though, so we sold lots of ice cream and ice. We also sold a lot of multipacks of beer.
Do you host, or help to host, any events during the summer holidays?
Dave: The winter months are when we are more likely to host events. We barely have a moment to breathe in the summer! Next year will be our 10th anniversary at the store so we will be doing something big to celebrate that milestone.
Kay: We don’t tend to do much of this as we lack the space in store. Also, our larger stores are in Stratford, which is a very transient area and there’s little in the way of community and so therefore there’s not a huge number of events to get involved with.
Jai: We haven’t had time to plan any events, unfortunately. We’ve been so busy with the store extension and so much mortgage stress that we haven’t even been able to plan our 10-year store anniversary street party that we had wanted to host in the summer. We’re going to have to delay it to next year instead, but I believe it will be better to do it properly than to rush planning it.
Gareth: We don’t really as it’s such a busy time for us that it’s quite difficult to host events as well as keep the store running.
The C-Store Champions are a group of experienced retailers who understand the role of the local store in their community. They are tuned into the demands and desires of their customers and believe in continual development of their businesses. Each month the Champions share their expertise