The immediate feedback from the stores suggests once again there is clear evidence that, however professional the outlet, making some changes to product ranges, implementing revised shelf layouts and introducing fresh display initiatives will have a positive effect. So let's introduce the four retailers taking part:
Ian Benney trades as a Nisa symbol store at Chatteris in the East Anglian Fens. It's the biggest of the four test stores at 1,800sq ft and all the participating manufacturers were keen to take the opportunity offered by a store with this amount of shelf and floor space.
Ian has run this busy high street operation for 27 years, experiencing many changes in convenience retailing and consumer needs. He has a loyal, hardworking staff and a regular customer base, but although turnover is at a satisfactory level he admits that he has probably settled into a routine and could benefit from listening to what manufacturers have to say.
Mark Aston and his wife Heather can't match Ian's long-service record, but have owned Castlefield Stores at Leominster, Herefordshire, for 13 years. Mark also has previous experience as a Safeway assistant manager and with Alldays and Peter Dominic. They trade under a Premier fascia and, being away from the town centre, are reliant on local residents and the nearby schools and light industrial businesses.
The shop's 1,400sq ft interior has a cramped appearance, with an awkward layout and low ceilings, but the Astons find room for a broad convenience offer and welcome the chance to make some changes, particularly to their dairy chiller.
Twenty minutes' drive away, in the old market city of Hereford, Simon and Harinder Singh have just completed their first year as convenience retailers. Simon's father has a Nisa Local in the Midlands so there is a useful family background, but Simon was keen to put questions to the manufacturers in the project.
His Brampton Road Stores is still independent and serves a big housing estate on the outskirts of the city. Customers span all age groups and the couple have developed a friendly relationship in the neighbourhood.
The fourth store in the project is further north, close to Nottingham. Brothers 'Gary' and 'Dave' Singh own Hilltop Grocers in Eastwood, trading under a Premier fascia. Until a few years ago they were, respectively, a computer programmer and a computer engineer, but decided they would prefer to work together as their own bosses.
The store was scruffy and rundown when they bought it, but they spent many days cleaning and painting and joined Premier, which then enabled them to put in a new floor, ceiling and lighting.
All four stores are slightly different in terms of location, retailer experience and potential for change but, most importantly, the owners are keen to receive advice and put it into practice.
The suppliers brought together by Convenience Store for this project are: Arla Foods, Burton's Foods, Colgate-Palmolive, Diageo, Energizer, Nestlé Cereal Partners, Nestlé Confectionery, Nestlé Purina, Premier Foods (Kipling Cakes division) and Walkers Crisps. Between them they have expert knowledge across a wide spectrum of convenience retailing and have enjoyed sharing it with the retailers.
As in previous years, Convenience Store will publish a supplement early in the New Year, detailing all the alterations made in-store - and will again present the findings in a video specially commissioned for the Convenience Retailing Show, which is being staged at the NEC in Birmingham on March 1-3, 2009.
Arla's objective was to demonstrate its expertise in driving profitable growth through tailored range and merchandising techniques. The test outlets were specifically chosen to reflect a traditional convenience store and a high street 'mini-supermarket' store.
There were clear opportunities in both with range, availability, merchandising and promotions.
Burton's Foods aimed to increase the project stores' biscuit sales by focusing on three key areas: range of products; how they are displayed; and the amount of space used for each product and type.
The stores had different opportunities to increase sales - one by re-planning the fixture to make it easier to shop; and the other through increasing the range to include more best-sellers.
Oralcare is a key driver for toiletries within convenience stores - contributing 22% of health and beauty sales, compared with only 13% in supermarkets (TNS Worldpanel 12 months to week ending September 7, 2008).
The store trials demonstrate that by using an easy-to-follow, stepped approach to making sure the right range of products is effectively displayed in the right location, retailers can maximise their store's sales.
This project is an opportunity for Diageo to assist stores in growing sales of the spirits, ready to drink (RTD), ready to serve (RTS) and stout categories.
The participating stores are trialling a set of 'sales drivers' that are tailored to the needs of convenience stores, utilising existing tools such as category-led planograms and testing innovative new solutions.
Battery expert Energizer is committed to working with convenience and impulse retailers. Its involvement in this project allows it to demonstrate that getting the basics right can lift battery sales and profit.
Energizer's key advice is: keep your display simple and well stocked, and indicate prices clearly; stock a full range to meet all power needs; and maximise impulse purchases through secondary displays and prompting.
The cereal category is worth £1.4bn annually and is growing at 3% a year (AC Nielsen, November 20, 2008). Breakfast cereals are an all-family category, and having the right offering can lead to increased store profitability.
Nestlé Cereal Partners aims to educate retailers about their range to enable category growth, which can be achieved through: stocking the top-selling cereals based on market data; delisting weaker-selling SKUs; and ensuring the fixture is merchandised in an easy-to-shop manner.
Convenience Store worked with epos specialist YP Electronics to measure sales prior to the makeovers in the test stores, and then for two months following the changes.
Data analyst FCRS, which provides market analysis and advice on contact strategies to fmcg companies, helped in analysing sales. FCRS has worked with manufacturers across most categories and provides an unbiased measurement of the sales uplifts that result from contact activity. For more details call 07971 291067, or email Karen.Gosford@FCRS.co.uk.
First, Nestlé worked alongside each retailer to choose the best range to maximise sales. The next focus was on displays, to ensure shoppers could easily find the lines they wanted.
In the convenience sector alone, pet food is worth more than £250m a year, making it a massive profit opportunity for retailers. Research has shown that 24% of shoppers will go elsewhere if they can't find their preferred pet food product, so stocking and merchandising the right range is essential.
Nestlé Purina Pet Care is committed to driving pet food in the c-store sector and this project shows how correct ranging and merchandising can transform sales.
This project allows Premier Foods to immerse itself within the trade, gain invaluable experience of what's happening in stores and impart its experience.
With brands such as Mr Kipling and Cadbury, Premier Foods is well placed to offer support within the cake category, in range management, merchandising principles and category management.
Crisps, nuts and snacks are critical to the convenience and impulse channel. Walkers is committed to working with retailers and through this project is able to demonstrate just how effective its category management advice is.
The principles it applied were: remove slow-selling lines to focus on bestsellers; de-clutter shelves and stock fixtures clearly; use pos to drive sales.