Four C-Store Champions discuss how they coped in the recent wintry weather

Arjan Mehr
Londis Supermarket, Bracknell, Berkshire
As a firm believer in looking after his staff, Arjan regularly takes his team out for meals when they hit their targets and even gives a card and small present to staff on their birthdays.

David Smith
Smith's Corner Store, Grimoldby, Lincolnshire
David and wife Kathryn know the importance of face-to-face selling and encourage their staff to tell customers about promotions and reassure them that they're getting a good deal.

Harry Goraya
Rosherville Post Office, Gravesend, Kent
The environment is a top priority at Harry's store, where he has invested heavily in energy efficient lighting and refrigeration. He also runs a campaign to encourage recycling of carrier bags.

Karl Rasmussen
Rasmussen's Costcutter, Skegness, Lincolnshire
Rasmussen's is well established in the local area, having first opened its doors in 1968. Karl knows the business inside out as he has run the shop for the past 18 years.

How important is it to have a strong team of employees when the bad weather causes chaos?
Arjan: You need to have a good team of people who are flexible and prepared to work with the situation, rather than complain. Our staff are very loyal. David: It's much less manic when your employees know what to do. My staff are very good even down to things like them leaving for work a bit earlier because they know the snow will mean a longer journey. Harry: It can make or break a business, especially if people don't want to walk to work. All of our team are motivated and concerned about the business and its customers, so they make the effort. Karl: If you haven't got good staff then the service won't be there and products won't be properly stocked. I was very happy with how my staff coped.
 Is wintry weather such as the recent heavy snowfall generally good for your business?

Arjan: Provided that suppliers deliver, it's positive in the most part because people tend to shop locally in the snow due to difficult driving conditions.

David: It's good at the time, but then the delayed supermarket shops kick in, which depresses sales.

Harry: It worked out well for us in the sense that it showed a lot of customers the importance of shopping local. It also enabled us to highlight how competitive we are. We could never afford to advertise locally like Tesco does, but by more people coming through the door we were able to let them see for themselves what we have to offer.

Karl: We tend to find it's good for business as we get busier when it snows. More people visit us as they can't get out to the big supermarkets.

How have you been caught out by bad weather in the past?

Arjan: We haven't been caught out as such, but a couple of times our milk and bread suppliers couldn't get through.

David: We were more naïve when we started off and it was harder to know when to stock up on extra products. Now we have epos data and can keep an eye out for what's ahead.

Harry: It's more the suppliers who are caught out. Our local bread supplier couldn't get out for three days in the snow. Fortunately, we have an in-store bakery and used that to the full. We keep two-and-a-half weeks-worth of stock, which is just as well as we normally do three or four bake-offs a day and in the snow we were getting through between 10 and 11.

Karl: We've learnt over the past couple of years to stock up on essential supplies. Last time it snowed we weren't prepared for the demand for salt, whereas this time we made sure we were well stocked up for the winter months.

Are some types of weather better for business than others?

Arjan: A summer heatwave is a double-edged sword for us. Salad and barbecue food does well, but grocery and confectionery sales tend to slow down. Also, many people go on holiday so they're not buying anything at all! The winter months usually fare much better, and the extreme conditions help.

David: In summer we see increases in fizzy drink, bottled water and ice cream sales. And in the snow people stock up on the essentials. If we can keep up with demand then there is an increase in trade.

Harry: Extreme heat is fantastic for lifting sales of cold drinks and ice creams, and extreme cold sees groceries such as soup fly out the door.

Karl: The snow makes a big difference to sales. In hot weather people sometimes head out for day trips, so it can be quiet here.

How did you prepare for the elements this winter?

Arjan: We changed a number of staff shifts from evening to daytime to make sure that people were being serviced at peak times. We also stock up on milk and bread.

David: We pre-ordered rock salt and offered promotions on soup and microwave meals.

Harry: Experience from previous years meant we knew to get a couple of bags of salt and several shovels to clear our wheelchair ramp. We have three or four floor mats, which got absolutely saturated, and it was just a case of constantly trying to dry them out during this last snowfall.

Karl: We had to change some employees' shifts in order to accommodate their getting home okay in the evenings. Another constant battle was mopping the floors in order to avoid customers slipping over. We made sure staff kept reminding customers to mind their step.

How can you take advantage of the snow in terms of seasonal product sales?
Arjan: Hot food to go such as pasties and sausages does well, but we have tied leases so that we don't compete with other businesses in the area and that restricts what we can sell. David: We always sell hats and gloves, and we have plenty of de-icer available. Harry: We sold our leftover barbecue sets to people as they were using them on their open fires. We also had a good supply of hats and gloves. Karl: We stock up on de-icer, hats and gloves. We had a lot of customers asking for shovels to clear the snow, so we'll probably stock a few of those next year, too.
How do you work with suppliers to ensure minimal disruption in challenging weather conditions?

Arjan: With Londis we have the flexibility of am and pm deliveries. If you choose to go for pm orders then you have a shorter lead time, which gives you more time to make decisions on exactly which products you may need.

David: We show suppliers our epos data so that they can see we have strong sales in the snow and that it's worth prioritising deliveries to us.

Harry: Nisa has a lot of contingency plans in place. Chilled deliveries were delayed for a day, but that was because of blocked roads so there wasn't much they could do about it. Other than that they've been really good they even put two delivery drivers in one van so that if one goes over their working hours due to traffic delays in the snow, they can just switch.

Karl: We made sure we kept in touch with our members' help desk. We also maintained constant communications with customers to let them know what the situation was with deliveries.

What effect has the heavy snow had on your sales so far this winter?

Arjan: After particularly heavy snowfall we see a 15-20% uplift, and even on cold days we'll see 10%. After Christmas people have over-indulged and they're cutting back, so January is a slower month. But even then, if the temperature dips then we get an uplift.

David: People stock up on bread and milk and then they have plenty to last them after the snow melts because they've over-bought. This means we don't see them for a while. If you take a balanced view, winter turnover probably works out to be the same as normal it's just that most of the shopping gets done on snowy days.

Harry: We've had the best December since we've been at the store and the weather certainly played a part in it.

Karl: This winter and last have probably worked out as well as each other because there was a similar period of snow. We wouldn't have done as well without the snow disruption.

How have you gone out of your way to help customers in challenging weather conditions?

Arjan: We delivered to people whom we knew couldn't get out of their homes. But even we had difficulties with some because they were so isolated. We got there in the end, though, and people were extremely grateful.

David: Older people ring the store in the snow and either have their shopping collected by someone more able, or we'll deliver it for them. The relative of a lad with a disability rang us concerned that she couldn't make it over to visit him, so we went and checked on him and made sure he had everything he needed.

Harry: We do home deliveries anyway, but usually it's six a week, whereas in the snow we were getting six a day because elderly people were frightened of slipping over in the ice.

Karl: We carried shopping out to people's cars and made sure that the footpaths around us were completely clear of ice. We also helped a few people dig their cars out of the snow when they got stuck in the ice.

Aside from the essentials of bread and milk, were there any other products that proved popular in the wintry weather?

Arjan: Tobacco is always popular. Pasta tends to go quickly, and part-baked bread has an uplift.

David: When it snowed in December, people weren't sure if they'd make it to the supermarkets before Christmas, so they started buying up chilled party food earlier than usual.

Harry: Pet supplies such as sawdust and straw did well. Cat litter sales increased, too, because people's cats didn't want to go outside in the cold. We also saw strong sales of birdseed, because people were worried about birds finding food in the snow.

Karl: Salt was very popular a best seller for us. In fact, it was the most requested product during the snow.