Summer is around the corner and our C-Store Champions are gearing up for a change in season. Here’s how they are preparing.

Andrew Porter, Eurospar Creighton’s of Finaghy, Belfast

As a one-stop shop, Andrew is keen customers can get everything they need from him, including BBQ goods

Mark Canniford, Spar, Weston-super-Mare

Mark is hoping for a scorching season after splashing out on air-conditioning and other improvements to the store

Dan Cock, Whitstone Premier Stores, Holsworthy, Devon

Now that Easter is out of the way, 
Dan will focus on summer lines to make the most of the tourist trade

Chris Pollard, Barlby Village Stores, Selby, North Yorkshire

Chris is hoping his investment in chillers and keen prices on alcohol will reap rewards this summer

When do you start thinking about summer products?

Andrew: We start to really think about what products I’m going to introduce after Easter. As the Easter lines finish it makes room for summer-specific stock.

Mark: We have already started to alter displays in time for summer. We have rationalised the drinks display and got rid of slower sellers. There’s no point sorting products out when the hot weather hits; retailers need to be ready.

Dan: As Easter draws to a close it’s time to think about what products we should be getting, what space we should be utilising and which products should be discontinued.

Chris: Any time now. In April I check shelves are fully stocked, especially water and soft drinks. I spent last week having a ‘spring clean’ with the help of Nisa, extending and shrinking shelf space where appropriate.

What key product categories are you focusing on?

Andrew: We have a huge focus on BBQ. We aim to supply customers with everything they need for their BBQs so we also focus on fresh salad and bakery produce, particularly bread rolls. We also aim to drive our ice cream sales in the summer. We want to put an ice cream server in one of our stores, which we hope will attract the local children.

Mark: We are really focusing on food to go as we are right by the seaside. Both our soft drinks and ice cream ranges are ready to go.

Dan: I have just placed my first order for more ice creams. Getting the right BBQ range in, too, is really important with regards to both food and accessories. I will also extend the alcohol range, mostly beers and ciders.

Chris: My key ranges are alcohol and BBQ. My ice cream range stays the same all year as I have the freezer space.

Are you adding in any new products this season?

Andrew: In the BBQ range we’ll be adding more meats, BBQ utensils, BBQs and coal. Spar has recently launched its own brand range called Enjoy Local, which features a lot of local produce. We will be selling that and raising awareness with a sampling day. Unfortunately, we do not have a licence to sell alcohol, it’s very hard to obtain one in Northern Ireland. It is a category we are really missing out on.

Mark: We have just introduced a new range of toasted sandwiches. They are pre-made and ready to be taken home and griddled, or customers can have them grilled in-store. We will also be introducing more fruity ciders and lighter beers and ales.

Dan: Sun cream, BBQs, coal, an extended range of BBQ meats, rolls and a few buckets and spades. We had someone come in on March 21 when we had a great weekend of sun, asking for sun tan lotion and BBQs. That was our hint to start getting in our summer range.

Chris: After rearranging the store I have used the space to extend my pound zone. This is really popular; it features ambient food and I add in as many lines as I can.

Do you discontinue any specific winter lines?

Andrew: We will get rid of all the fire wood, de-icer, hats, gloves and scarves to make room for our gardening range. We run this from spring and increase it towards the summer, featuring cut flowers, pots of flowers and bits for the garden.

Mark: We have already discontinued some soft drinks. We will also be reducing other lines such as snack boxes left over from Christmas, stews and winter-warming ready meals and dark ales.

Dan: We will definitely get rid of de-icer and reduce our screen wash line. We have a section in the shop for seasonal offerings and I will be re-working this section to feature sun cream and cool bags.

Chris: I discontinue hot soup to take away as trade dies. Even the tinned soups and tinned vegetables don’t sell as well so I’ve already reduced this section.

What was business like last summer?

Andrew: I’m glad to report that it was very good, and the weather just helps our sales to increase. We have seen a 5% growth year on year.

Mark: It was very good. We had a great summer and the sunshine kept business booming. We were up 6%.

Dan: Last summer was probably the best in the eight years I’ve been running the shop. Between 2011 and 2013, the weather really wasn’t on our side. Last year, however, it really picked up, which was reflected in our sales. We saw lots of new faces as people decided to take holidays in the West Country.

Chris: Last summer we were really busy. In March 2014 I got new fridges fitted with doors, which was a big investment but has paid for itself. Not only have I reduced my energy bills by £1,000, but it has also increased my sales. Since April last year sales have been up between 16% and 18% each month in comparison with the same month the previous year.

What are your expectations for this summer?

Andrew: A 5% increase at least. We also have particular categories in which sales rise dramatically, such as soft drinks, fresh food and ice cream. We have to make sure these areas are well stocked up, on the hot days especially.

Mark: We have huge expectations; we’ve worked on making a better store over the past year and I hope all our hard work pays off. We have installed air conditioning and have new lighting.

Dan: Hopefully trade will reflect last summer and our sales will be up roughly 35% again. We picked up on some good trends last summer, so we will be ready and waiting with the customers’ favourites this year. We noticed a big demand for alfresco eating. Our evening sales were astronomical; everybody wanted fresh food such as salad, vegetables, meats and snacks. People are ready for some good healthy food after winter.

Chris: I hope this summer continues to be good. It will be interesting to see if sales continue to be up on the month before when we hit April as we would have had our fridges a year then. Keeping up with housekeeping is the only thing I can do now to ensure that I get as good a summer as the previous years.

Does the weather need to be hot in order for all summer product categories to sell well?

Andrew: We pray for good weather, of course, but as many of our products are local they mostly continue to sell throughout the summer. Our sampling days really help.

Mark: When the sun’s out our margins shoot up. Everybody wants to buy soft drinks and ice creams.

Dan: The weather massively affects our sales; it’s like flipping a switch when the sun decides not to shine, as suddenly soft drinks and ice cream sales fall greatly.

Chris: The hot weather definitely helps. Soft drinks sales go through the roof when the sun is shining. My main profit line is alcohol. I stock a lot of alcohol cheaper than the multiples. People walk away with boxes of Echo Falls as I price them singularly at £3.99 rather than the £6 Tesco does.

Do customers taking holidays affect your sales?

Andrew: We don’t have much trade from holidaymakers and this means we do notice the effects of our customers going on holiday. Everybody’s businesses seem to suffer around the middle of July for two weeks.

Mark: No, it really doesn’t affect us. We have college students and holiday-makers who use the store instead.

Dan: People do go away more now in the summer holidays as schools have tightened the rules on parents taking children out of term time. It doesn’t affect us much, though. We notice our regular customers aren’t coming in, but we are faced with so many new holiday-makers that it doesn’t make much of a difference to our sales.

Chris: Not massively. Sales through the summer tend to stay pretty consistent.

How do you manage staffing over the summer?

Andrew: It’s very challenging as inevitably everybody wants to go on holiday at the same time. We just make sure that staff request their holiday well in advance so we have enough time to plan shifts.

Mark: It’s a nightmare for any business. I’m not saying staff shouldn’t have the time off - I just think the government needs to look at how many hours staff do, versus their holiday allowance, versus how much work is required in the store.

Dan: We have a strictly no holidays in August policy as it’s when we are our busiest. We are lucky with our staff; many are young and don’t have as many commitments as those with children at home.

Chris: I have recently recruited more staff, most of whom are part-time doing 15-16 hours a week. This means I have more cover for the holidays, which makes things a lot easier. I used to struggle with Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. People often used to call in sick and I would have to work. I now rota on an extra person and this will suit me well in the summer when staff want to take holidays.

Will you be taking a holiday?

Andrew: Most definitely. I will be taking a holiday in July. I have a really good assistant manager who will be taking charge of the shop while I’m away. We also have lots of students working for us who like to take on more hours throughout the summer anyway.

Mark: Most definitely We tend to go away for a couple of weeks during August or May, when I leave the store in the hands of my staff.

Dan: Definitely, but not during August. I generally go out of season. I have great staff and I trust them to look after the store when I’m away.

Chris: I’m going away with my family in August. I’m happy to go away during this prime time as I have a very reliable business partner, Paul. We stagger our holidays and it works a treat.

Do you focus on local suppliers for summer produce?

Andrew: Northern Ireland is a great place to obtain local suppliers. In the first week of June we hold sampling days for all our 25 local suppliers; we call it Customer Appreciation Week. It’s an opportunity for customers to meet the suppliers, try the foods and see what we offer.

Mark: Unfortunately, there aren’t many local producers near our store and the ones that are don’t want to have to invest time and money in labelling their produce correctly to meet the new food standards. We have, however, managed to source our strawberries locally.

Dan: Most of our food is from local suppliers, especially during the summer. Our cakes, rolls and scones are all locally produced. Being in the land where clotted cream is a favourite, this is a must. We have recently found a new local independent supplier. We have worked with her and developed a range of ready to go, pre-marinated meats such as minted lamb chops, kebabs, flavoured sausages and burgers.

Chris: I source all my meat from a local butcher. It comes pre-packaged and priced ready to put straight into the fridge. I also use Primepak Foods, a supplier in Yorkshire. This year I am looking to get BBQ meat packs with a selection of all the favourites.

Are there any local or national events that you will be marking with in-store activity or marketing?

Andrew: Not really. I sponsor horses at an agricultural show in Northern Ireland in May. It’s a huge event and lasts three days. I also advertise the show in my store and they let me advertise at the show, which is great.

Mark: This year it’s the Rugby World Cup and we’ll be promoting that, with advertising, flags and deals to engage customers to buy and add some excitement to the store.

Dan: We try to make the most of village fetes. We mostly support a local festival called Leopallooza, which runs for three days at the beginning of August. We are the main go-to store for the festival-goers as we have a free cash point, and we sell tobacco and alcohol. We also have a good relationship with the festival organising team; they allow us to promote our store at the event, and similarly we promote the festival in-store. We have even discussed setting up a small stall at the festival; it’s definitely something we will explore further this summer.

Chris: I sponsor the local football teams, but apart from that there are no local events or festivals for me to capitalise on. I try to support the community as much as I can, though, and am always open to suggestions.