Food to go can be a great way of engaging with your customers. Aidan Fortune meets a couple who show just how it’s done

A well-run food-to-go section can be a profitable addition to a business, providing another reason for customers to visit and giving you a point of difference to your competitors. But as award-winning retailers Julian Taylor-Green and his wife Jackie show, it can also be a place where a community comes together.

Julian and Jackie have transformed what was previously empty space beside their Londis Store of the Year into a dedicated food-to-go unit, providing the residents of Lindford in Hampshire with something a little different.

The Taylor-Greens bought the former bicycle shop two years ago, and had originally used it as a storage facility and a temporary Christmas shop. However, they knew that the space had the potential for more.

"We were tempted to extend our convenience store, but the logistics of doing that would have been a nightmare," he explains. "So when we realised that there weren't too many places around the village offering food to go, it made sense to progress with that."

The idea soon evolved and the Taylor-Greens kitted out the 800sq ft of space with a full bake-off unit and hot drinks machines to provide customers with all they need for a coffee or lunch break. They have kept the familiar green fascia but branded the store Jackie's Bakery at Londis.

"Half the space is for preparation and storage, and the other half is for the customers," Julian explains. "There's plenty of space for customers to view the products, and a seating area for people who aren't in a hurry. We also have some extra seating outside," he adds.

The Taylor-Greens invested £35,000 in fitting out the area and worked with Country Choice to get the range and merchandising right. "At the moment, we have all of the basics that we need to run a successful food-to-go offering, but I want to expand on this," says Julian. "We've done the hard work in getting people to visit the store, but now we need the tools to engage and keep customers wanting to come back."

One size fits all
While not every retailer has 800sq ft to spare in their store, even those with limited space can still take advantage of the benefits that food to go offers thanks to the Country Choice entry-level bakery concept. 

The four-tray oven includes everything a retailer needs to get their food to go offering up and running, such as tongs, cooling trays, digital timer and a marketing pos pack. For a minimum of 30 minutes of work a day, a retailer can generate up to £4,000 profit a year. 

Country Choice marketing controller Stephen Clifford said the concept was introduced to meet the needs of retailers with smaller stores. "For some the range is too large, or the space requirement too great," he says. "Our new scaled-down concept addresses all of these issues by offering a tight core range, minimal space requirement and a low-entry cost." 

For more information on the Country Choice entry-level concept, contact 01689 301 201.
Local interest

To create maximum impact in the community, the couple went to town in promoting the unit in its first week. They held a street party for the Royal Wedding and distributed 6,500 flyers to every home in the area, offering a discount voucher for the main store and information on the new bakery.

These tactics paid off and in the opening week the food-to-go store recorded a turnover of £1,200. And while Julian thought that it might take away from the main store's food-to-go turnover, this hasn't been the case so far.

"I had a look at the figures for the first week of trading and everything that the bakery did was in addition to the store's turnover for food-to-go products," he says. "There was no cannibalism between the two sites, which shows that it's attracting new customers."

Despite this initial success, it's still early days for the Taylor-Greens' initiative and they've already had to reassess some aspects of the business. "We were advised to start off with a small range and then to increase it as business picked up so that we wouldn't be left with lots of wasted products," says Julian. "However, we didn't anticipate people taking to it so quickly and we ran of out of some products over the opening weekend.

"We've also increased the number of deliveries from Country Choice," he adds. "We started off with three deliveries a week, but given the level of demand we're now upping that to four or maybe five a week."

Julian says it's been a steep learning curve. "Previously, we had only a small hot beverage machine and a selection of bakery products in the main store, and to introduce a 800sq ft bake-off and café offering is a massive jump. We've had to learn quickly and adapt to the demand and the extra responsibilities."

To do this, Julian and Jackie are taking the best practices from their thriving convenience store and applying them to the bakery. "Over the years we've built up procedures that help the store run efficiently, and we have to do the same here," Julian explains. "For example, we're quickly learning which products have a longer shelf life and can be baked earlier to give us more time to work on the products that have a shorter shelf life."

Everything that isn't sold in the bakery is used in the main c-store in an effort to cut down on waste. "The bakery closes at 2pm so we move everything that is due to expire that day into the store and sell it in there," he says.

The bakery currently opens from 7am to 2pm and is staffed just by Jackie. Given the extra demand, they are looking to add more staff members to relieve some of the pressure and to ensure the smooth running of both the bakery and the store.

"We're hoping to get someone to come in early in the mornings to get everything started, which will leave us more time for engagement with the customers, rather than having to rush around trying to do everything at once."

Shopping missions
The bakery's range includes all of the staple food-to-go items such as rolls, sandwiches, pastries and hot beverages. But Julian wanted to maximise the potential of the space by selling newspapers, soft drinks and confectionery to customers in a hurry. "While we want people to come in and buy sandwiches and bake-off products in here, we don't want them to feel that they have to visit two stores just to get their lunch," he says. "Consumers are fussy about their shopper missions and don't want to make unnecessary visits, especially on a lunch break. Having some confectionery and soft drinks in the bakery means that they can get almost everything they might need quickly and in one store. 

"It's another reason why we wanted to keep it separate from the main store and call it Jackie's Bakery, rather than 'food to go at Londis' or something like that," adds Julian. "We want it to be a place that people know they can pop to on their lunch break, or drop by for a coffee and a pastry rather than as an extension of the main store."
Engaging subject

Engagement is not just a marketing buzz word for Julian, it's part of a mission statement that the couple have. The Taylor-Greens want to create a hub that people will gravitate towards. "It's all about engaging with customers and the local community," he says. "Next we'll be targeting local businesses. There are a few business parks in the area and a mechanic's garage nearby whose primary customer is the white van man, one of our target markets. If we can have them come to us every day, it would be fantastic. We're going to start accepting phone orders soon, so once we get a few regular customers through that, we'll have already created turnover before the lunchtime rush begins. We're also looking at how the space can be utilised after 2pm we want to get the most out of it," asserts Julian.

One of the ideas they have for the bakery is to allow people to surf the internet while enjoying a snack.

"We've been working with Hampshire County Council for a way to get wi-fi internet installed so that people can bring their laptops here, and for us to perhaps run some small computer classes here nothing too big, but enough that people find out that we're here and hopefully become regulars."

Julian was tempted to install some PCs, but decided against it due to space constraints. Instead, he's hoping to buy netbooks that he can hire out.

The couple also worked with the council when it came to researching grants available, and urge other retailers looking to expand to explore this avenue. Says Julian: "The council understands the importance of having thriving independents in the area and wants to support them as much as possible."

It's not just the council that has backed the store, either, and the stack of good luck cards on the counter shows that the residents of Lindford appreciate the effort that the Taylor-Greens are going to.

"So far everybody has given us a huge amount of support," he says. "People have said that it smartens up the parade and has breathed new life into the village. We want to help make Lindford a better place; somewhere that people want to live and visit."

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