With the summer gone and Christmas yet to come, our Champions reveal how they manage to drive footfall during the autumn months

Louise Hammond, owner of a Mace forecourt store in Halesworth, Suffolk

Louise is highlighting promotions and comforting ready meals to appeal to shoppers this autumn

David Knight, owner of two Budgens stores in West Sussex

Eye-catching displays and pumpkin-carving help keep David’s sales up in what can be a flat period for him

Jerry Tweney, owner of Budgens Prestbury Village Stores in Cheltenham

Jerry finds getting involved in the local community and focusing on local produce is a winning formula

Stephen Mallon, manager of Kelly’s Eurospar in Moneymore, Northern Ireland

Decorating the store for Halloween is a must to get shoppers into the spirit, says Stephen

How does autumn compare with the other seasons in terms of maintaining footfall and basket spend?

Louise: You definitely have to work harder for those things this time of year. As soon as the summer is over people start to think about the fact that Christmas is coming up and will start to tighten their purse strings. I don’t tend to promote Christmas until after Halloween as I like to concentrate on one event at a time. A scarecrow competition goes on in the local area, which people get quite into, and it ties in quite nicely with the Halloween and Bonfire season, so there’s a fun atmosphere in the community which people enjoy.

David: Autumn is probably the second toughest time of the year, after January. If it’s wet then it’s a real challenge, but if it’s dry it’s a bit easier. Halloween and Bonfire Night are very close together and there are no other events to keep up the momentum until Christmas.

Jerry: Footfall initially sees a drop after the summer, but once people get themselves sorted out it soon returns to normal, although a lot of our older customers go on holiday this time of year so we lose a bit of trade. At the moment, we are looking to drive footfall with local produce such as apples, pears and plums. People definitely want English fruits at this time, but we won’t see another spike in demand until Halloween, which means we have to create lots of reasons for people to shop with us. With shows like The X Factor and Strictly kicking off, people want to spend more time at home so we tinker with our range a bit. The Cheltenham races will be starting again soon, so we need to be ready for that.

Stephen: We see a bit of an uplift during the autumn months, as the kids are back at school and people go back to work. We’re a forecourt store and rely a lot on passing trade so summer is actually a bit quieter for us in terms of footfall. We like it when we can get back into the routine for autumn. We go back to seeing a boost in our lunchtime trade and shoppers’ spending habits are more predictable.

How do you build excitement for Halloween, Bonfire Night and Diwali?

Louise: We don’t do lots for Halloween or Bonfire Night as we don’t find there’s a great need for it from our shoppers, as we’re a forecourt store outside of the town.

David: We have a big display at the front of the store. We work with Premier Decorations to make a big display of non-food products and we try to make our store a destination for fancy dress and other non-food products. We also have a massive display of pumpkins. We like to keep everything at the front of the store so it’s really impactful.

Jerry: We usually run a colouring competition, and want to do the same again this year. It’s really important that we get kids and families involved, because once they get into all the theatre they are more likely to come back and shop with us again. We also have a local church that we have a good relationship with, which means we get involved with the harvest festival and help the local schools with their donations. It’s a really good thing to be involved with and we know that when Christmas comes around then they will get in touch with us again. The building of our store is more than 400 years old so we also have the opportunity to use our brilliant bay windows to create some great Halloween and Bonfire displays. If we can’t make a store like ours look scary, then we’re doing something wrong.

Stephen: We create in-store theatre with large displays of pumpkins and confectionery. We also put lots of decorations around the till and hang pumpkins and ghosts from the ceiling to create a spooky atmosphere. We stock up on lots of Haribo so the kids can go trick or treating. We also get in early on the Christmas trade so have big tubs of chocolates on display for people to buy for the autumn events as well.

Do you celebrate with any in-store or out-of-store events or activities?

Louise: We like to use this time to promote our community work and work closely with the school in their ‘get ready for winter’ projects. The pupils create posters making people aware that the nights are drawing in and the importance of using lights, and pointing out the importance of safety on the roads. We put up the posters in the store.

David: We have done pumpkin carving, colouring and fancy dress competitions with the local schools. This year we will be doing pumpkin carving again, but families will be doing it at home and will put pictures of all the entries in our store.. We have previously done the carvings in the store, but we’ve stopped as we’re very wary of the health and safety issues involved.

Jerry: Last year we got involved with the WI and events with the local schools, but I think we’re going to do things slightly differently this year. My wife Louise is co-ordinating some tasting events for the store throughout the autumn. We are planning to hold them every third Saturday of each month so that people can sample some of the great produce that we have around our village of Prestbury.

Stephen: Apart from our usual promotions and seasonal displays, we don’t tend to focus on outdoor events. It’s difficult for us, as a forecourt site, to make any extra room for people to do activities.

Has the health trend affected the way people shop for these events?

Louise: I would say satisfying food is more prominent at this time of year and the want for healthy products kicks in in January when people feel guilty for overindulging.

David: I don’t think so. I think people are more health conscious during the week, but then splurge at the weekends so they won’t change what they buy for parties.

Jerry: We’ve definitely seen people looking for more healthy foods. Our gluten-free range has been selling well, and the sugar tax has helped people to realise that they should be eating healthier products at all times. Whereas in the past, I would have filled the front of the store with offers on cheap beer and wine, it’s now more about protein snacks and our local fruit and veg. People are also looking for more than your regular crisps and chocolate, even if it is Halloween.

Stephen: I’m not sure health has affected how people shop for Halloween and the like. We do stock a range of protein bars and sell them in batches of 15 for £20 and although they are popular at this time of year, they are more of an all-year-round product.

How would you recommend other retailers create excitement for these occasions?

Louise: I would say promote those items that revolve around that desire to stay in and hibernate. This is the time for cosy nights in, so products that work for that mission will sell.

David: Do something small to start with - something like a colouring competition is really simple to do and doesn’t cost anything. Also, see if your local school is holding an autumn fair and if you can get involved. That’s a great way to improve your relationship with the community. We like to make a local apple juice every autumn, made from the apples that people find have fallen off trees. We get people to bring their apples in and have a local company turn them into juice. We get the children at the local school to design a label for the bottles and we print them off and stick them on ourselves. We’ve had as many as 500 bottles in the past. Sometimes we give the bottles to the school to sell at their autumn fair and keep the proceeds. I would also say to definitely put up a display in your store - but if you’re going to do that, do it properly. Show shoppers they can get everything they need at your store.

Jerry: We’re lucky that we have access to a great range of POS through Budgens. It includes all the seasonal events and offers and helps to drive sales, but no matter what, retailers can decorate their store well and relatively cheaply. We’ve got some great Halloween decorations that we got for next to nothing, but they create that bit of theatre. It’s really important, too, that we have all our promotions and leaflets out and promote products that are seasonal and healthy, rather than leading with the same traditional lines.

Stephen: Create some in-store theatre to get people excited about the events. All the usual Halloween products have to be in stock so that people have all the essentials for their celebrations.

How have shoppers’ buying habits changed in terms of how they prepare and the amount they spend on these events?

Louise: I would say Halloween has got bigger, with more people holding parties in their homes.

David: It’s definitely become more of a party opportunity for grown-ups. Whereas it used to be about children trick or treating, I’ve noticed the traditional trick or treat confectionery sales are stagnant, while the party foods and alcohol sales have increased.

Jerry: We’ve noticed that in the week of Halloween our average basket spend goes up by 20-30p, which is really good considering our average basket spend is normally £6.50. The big confectionery tubs sell for about £5 each so they are good at boosting average spend. Shoppers are happy to buy all the festive packs to have at Halloween or before Christmas.

Stephen: Halloween is a much bigger event, but it’s what you make it. If retailers invest in their displays, then shoppers will spend more.

Seasonal sales

Which products get a boost in the autumn season?

Louise: I concentrate more on the hearty hot meals that people start wanting this time of year, as opposed to the salad and light meals they’ve eaten in summer. We also try to offer promotions to show that we can help shoppers save money, especially with the household category.

David: In September we remerchandise to have more vegetables and less salad as people move towards the hearty hot meals. We notice people buying more ready meals and comfort foods, and our Cook ready meals go particularly well. We also start selling a lot more joints of meat and casseroles. We usually start to shout about our seasonal produce in September, although it was all pushed back this year because of the ridiculously hot summer. We also look to promote the Big Night In occasion as soon as The X Factor kicks off. We also notice an increase in sales of alcohol, especially red wine and spirits. I assume this is due to the fact people are staying in and drinking at home more.

Jerry: We sell a lot more fresh veg such as baking potatoes and cauliflower, as well as more packs of ready meals. At this time of year, we also start to bring in Christmas chocolates and biscuits. It’s almost like we get rid of the BBQ stuff and bring in the Christmas stock, and there is no autumn in retail.

Stephen: It’s the packed lunch essentials that see a big increase in our store. The fruit, veg and yogurts sell really well, and even meat becomes more popular. I think people want to cook comforting meals such as stews and cottage pie. It’s the traditional family dinners that people tend to want at this time of year and we rely a lot on that family trade to increase our business.

What’s hot

Have you noticed any new trends this autumn?

Louise: I think Halloween now is more about people wanting to get involved in the fancy dress and the party element rather than the trick or treat element. It’s just become another excuse to hold a party.

David: I think the cocktail-making culture is growing. Last winter was the first time I had shoppers asking for things like Triple Sec and Grenadine. This Christmas we plan to go big on premium spirits as we saw sales increase last year. We have noticed men who have always drunk ale in the past are moving into the spirits category as it’s now seen as socially acceptable for men to drink cocktails and gin and tonics.

Jerry: I haven’t seen anything too different that has surprised me about what people are buying. What we have seen is a huge amount of product innovation in protein drinks and protein bars. We can expect these products to continue to grow as something that can be eaten all year.

Stephen: I don’t think there is anything surprising about this season, apart from the trick or treaters! Most retailers are now prepared for events such as Halloween and shoppers shop for these events in much the same way as they have in the past. Of course, it’s better to keep going bigger on the autumn occasions.