This week’s Champions:

Atul Sodha

Peverells (Londis), Harefield, Middlesex
Atul Sodha is a motivated campaigner and last year helped organise a 1,000-signature petition against a Tesco in his area.

Dave Newman
Newman Food & Wine, Hastings, East Sussex
C-Store columnist Dave isn’t afraid to stand up and be heard. He has spoken out against issues including VAT rises, crime and red tape.

Sylvia Winter
Creaton Post Office & Stores, Northampton
David and Sylvia’s store might be classed as a traditional village shop, but there’s nothing outdated about their approach to retailing.

Saqi Ghafoor
Nisa Local, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear
Saqi has sent his staff on a number of training courses and motivates his employees by rewarding them with vouchers if he sees that they do a good job.

This week’s questions:

How do you decide whether a new product will work for you?

Atul: I always look at whether it’s in line with current trends, and whether it’s easy to implement.

Dave: I’m driven by a sale or return offer from the supplier so that I’m not stuck with unwanted stock. Also, if there’s a good profit margin to be made then it’s worth looking into.

Sylvia: If we’re asked to stock something by a customer then we’ll try to. Of course, you need to look at price and profit margin.

Saqi: If it’s going to have good TV coverage I’ll consider it.

What was the last new product category you introduced?

Atul: I’m selling tubes of fresh herbs in the chiller. They’re going pretty well. I’ve also been selling Lucozade energy shots from a stand that sits on the counter.

Dave: I took on some picture books of Hastings.

Sylvia: Some customers aren’t able to travel and they asked if I’d consider stocking gifts, so I’ve started stocking jewellery and items from the local wood turner.

Saqi: The latest addition was the Subway franchise.

How successful was it?

Atul: I introduced energy shots because they were a big trend and the unit fitted in easily. They really took off to start with, but sales are slower now.

Dave: The local paper, the Hastings Observer, said they’d supply the picture books free and I’d get a percentage of sales. We sold 15 or 20.

Sylvia: Both the jewellery and wooden gifts are free in return for shelf space and I get a percentage of the profit. The wooden products sell particularly well at Christmas.

Saqi: There was a lot of hype around food to go and healthy eating. Subway is a recognised brand which is advertised regularly. It created extra footfall because people come in for a sandwich and buy a paper and soft drink, too.

Have you ever introduced a product category that didn’t work so well?

Atul: Sim cards are an absolute nightmare. We haven’t got the right kind of merchandising equipment to sell them. People expect things like that to be free, so weren’t willing to pay for them.

Dave: We sell 59p toys from Bestway, which retail at 99p. Years ago we trialled higher quality toys, but they got broken easily and people would bring them back it was a headache.

Sylvia: Sim cards weren’t a hit. We don’t really understand them ourselves, so we can’t sell them to people. Also, lots of people tend to be on contract phones and aren’t interested in a new tariff.

Saqi: We had a Polish food category that did really well to begin with but it’s declined over the years as many Poles have moved back to their homeland.

How do you find out about new product categories?

Atul: Trade publications are a good medium. I also see a lot of national account managers and hear what they have to say.

Dave: I look in other stores and pick up things from the media. I always watch other people’s trolleys at the cash and carry.

Sylvia: Sometimes local people have something they’d like to trial, or we’ll pick up something from a trade magazine.

Saqi: Usually through Nisa, magazines, sales reps and online.

How difficult is it to make space for a new product category?

Atul: Space is a big issue. Some companies provide units that slot onto existing shelving, but as independents we all have different types of equipment and some units don’t fit.

Dave: My store is chocka, but I give new products to my manageress and she always fits them in somehow. I usually give new lines space on the counter to start with and you can quickly get a feel of whether they’re worth making space for in-store.

Sylvia: It can be tricky and issues can arise when products don’t fit properly on our shelves.

Saqi: It’s not very difficult there’s always something that isn’t performing as it should.

What new products can you see yourself introducing in the future?

Atul: If it continues to stay hot over the coming weeks then I may get Slush Puppie and ice-cream machines.

Dave: My wife and I had a few days in Cornwall recently and we bought a kite and flew it on the beach. I’m situated on a hill, so I thought I’d order a few in as they might go well here.

Sylvia: We’re looking to introduce a local section.

Saqi: There is growth in ethnic foods so we’ll look into that.

What are your top tips to retailers who are thinking of trying out a new category?

Atul: Be sure the merchandising will work, know the product that you’re selling so you can explain it to customers and, most importantly, keep it simple.

Dave: Don’t over-commit. Even if you think a product is good, don’t buy loads before testing the water.

Sylvia: Search the market for the best prices and monitor sales closely once it’s in-store.

Saqi: Start with a small area and gauge the response.

What was your most successful line and why?

Atul: A fireworks display unit. That’s done very well and complements my seasonal shop, which is next door. It’s done well because I recognised the need to tailor my offering for different customers. For example, people with young kids don’t want loud bangs, so we have quiet fireworks for them, and really loud packs for guys who want something more noisy. Dave: Energy drinks do really well. Mums come in with their kids and give them a can before school; some kids will have several a day. Sylvia: The jewellery is one of our most successful categories. It works well because it’s able to move with the times we’re selling hair flower clips as they’re popular over the summer. Saqi: When I first took over here we didn’t have the lottery, PayPoint or the post office. I guess all of those, combined with the Subway counter, work together to create extra footfall.