When splashing out on a new offer, retailers have to take a fine line between overdoing it and potentially wasting heaps of cash, and doing a less than adequate job and having to spend more later on. This was the dilemma faced by Richard Cook, who wanted to invest in a bigger and better food-to-go offer.

Richard, who owns Richlands Convenience Store in Sevenoaks, Kent, wanted to add to his existing small food-to-go range, but was unsure of where to start. "I know that food to go will be great for the shop, but I want to make sure that I go about it the right way," he says.

"I know the demand is there, but I just want to find the level that will make it financially viable," he says.

To help, C-Store brought in consultant Max Jenvey of Oxxygen Marketing Partnership. "Straight away I can see huge potential," says Jenvey. "It's in the middle of a big residential area with lots of building sites which will provide plenty of hungry construction workers, and there's no other store like it for miles around."

Building up business

His observation about the building sites proves to be spot on as Richard says that they have been a good source of custom in past years.

"There are building sites in almost every direction and we get a lot of the workers in at lunchtime," says Richard. "Some of them stop by on the way to work as well."

These construction workers buy the food to go already available a small selection of homemade sandwiches and, more often than not, Richard sells out.

Ordering the right amount of stock is a common concern among retailers, according to Jenvey. "It will take a couple of weeks to figure how much you should be setting out," he says. "You don't want to run out too soon, but you don't want to be left with a pile of food going to waste. In the first few weeks I would advise baking less and seeing how much demand there is, rather than the other way around."

Richard also has a small hot beverage offering in his store and says that it has been very popular in the 18 months since it was installed. "We sell hot drinks for 99p each and average 40 cups a day," he says.

Jenvey thinks Richard could achieve higher margins. "There's no reason why the price couldn't be increased to at least £1.30 a cup without any drop off in demand," he says. "There's no major competition in the area and even the higher price would still be cheaper than a café."

If Richard is still wary of increasing the price of his hot beverages, Jenvey suggests offering a hot drink along with a snack as part of a meal deal. "I think Richard's customers would go for a hot drink and a pastry or savoury snack at a discounted price. It would bring more people in and increase the average spend."

When it comes to where to put the operation, Richard had considered having it by the counter, which Jenvey thinks is a fantastic idea. "Having food to go close to the sales counter increases the amount sold by up to 30%, as people see it while waiting in the queue and buy on impulse," he says.

Richard will have to wait to see if there are further developments in the tobacco display ban before committing to rearranging his counter area, but Jenvey believes that space could also be made in an area directly beside the till. "There will be enough space to have an oven under the counter and several hot food displays, which will tempt customers as they wait to be served."

Both Richard and Jenvey seem set on the idea of having food to go beside the till, until Jenvey asks about a door close to the front of the store which houses a sink and small storage area. 

Space race

The potential for this space gets Jenvey very excited. "There's no actual wall in this area it's just the back of some shelves so they could be removed with minimum hassle to create an area that's perfect for a food-to-go counter. It's facing the entrance of the store so will be the first thing people will see when they come in."

Jenvey believes that this is the perfect solution for Richard's store. "It will will probably take less work than adding to the counter area as there is already plumbing installed for the sinks.

"Richard may need to take on extra staff during busy periods, but it will be worth the expense. It will help to create a theatre atmosphere for customers waiting for their food to go and really impress them."