Store refits may mean some – or a lot of – upheaval and are a major investment, but our C-Store Champions agree that they are worth it

Thomas Magennis, manager of Eurospar Mulkerns, Newry, Northern Ireland

A refit has brought the separate off-licence into the store and created more space for fresh and chilled

Richard Inglis, owner of three Co-op stores around Southampton

Richard says his recent refit involved updating chillers and creating quirky shelving for BWS and health foods

Arnaud Leudjou, retail manager at Costcutter Brunel University, London

A refit at Arnaud’s store extended popular areas and reduced the pressure in keeping shelves stocked

Peter McBride, owner of McBride’s Retail

Peter chose to refit his Spar Mullaghmore store when he knew a big footfall driver was moving away from the area 

When did you last refit your store and what were the reasons for it?

Richard: We did a major refit at the Frobisher store just before Christmas. We did two things: we changed shelving and brought in wooden crates for the BWS and free-from products to better define the store. We also brought in new chillers for BWS and soft drinks.

Thomas: In December 2016 the store owners, Kieran and Terry, decided to give the store a revamp as they found the business had plateaued and there was little extra they could do with what they had. We added 3,000sq ft of retail space by bringing the separate off-licence retail unit into the main store. We also brought in a Post Office along with 20 extra car-parking spaces and expanded the fresh food.

Arnaud: We had a refit last summer because we are a high-volume store and get a lot of footfall at certain times of the day, which can make it hard to keep on top of replenishment. We wanted to make the store and the popular categories bigger so that we weren’t having to replenish as often. We increased the space devoted to soft drinks by 30% and brought in lots of new low-sugar drinks ahead of the sugar tax. We also brought in more iced tea and more healthy soft drinks. We increased space devoted to sandwiches by 50% and added more low-calorie, vegan- and gluten-free options. We increased space devoted to crisps to include more healthy baked options and sales of crisps increased by 40%. I put this down to the fact that we started zone merchandising the store so we put all the sandwiches, crisps and soft drinks together, which encouraged more impulse purchases of crisps from shoppers buying sandwiches. Sales of sandwiches and soft drinks have increased by about 12% year on year. Strangely, sales of confectionery have also increased so the healthy snacks haven’t taken anything away from that category.

Peter: We carried out a £400,000 refit last summer, over July and August. The store was trading very well, but a lot of the footfall derived from a local health centre in the same precinct and I knew this was moving away in June 2017 so I thought we should refresh the store. We always had a big fresh offering, but we increased and improved it significantly. We got all-new refrigeration with a pack system which is energy efficient and self-monitored, so the fridges will know about any issues or faults before I do. They will even call a handyman and inform them of any issue; I had a guy show up with the right part for the chiller before I’d even known there was an issue. Customers had said they didn’t like taking wet trollies, plus I wanted to encourage people to take a trolley and therefore spend more money, so I invested £5,000 in turning a parking space into a sheltered trolley bay.

How much help did you get from your symbol group, and how much freedom did you have when choosing designs and fittings?

Richard: Co-op don’t tend to co-fund projects. Their interest lies in whether we are getting good value for money and whether we will see a return on our investment. They have never told me I can’t make a change that I want to make; they are always encouraging when it comes to us making improvements. We used one of their contractors so they had peace of mind that the work would be done well.

Thomas: All Eurospar’s development managers provide tips and advice on planograms, but the owners had a big part in the design choices such as the glass entrance and the new flooring and refrigeration.

Arnaud: We had a lot of support from Costcutter, but they were also quite flexible. I asked them to look at my on-site data to see why I wanted to expand and why it was important to dedicate more space to certain sections as I didn’t want them implementing a generic refit.

Peter: We used Henderson’s designers and merchandising teams. We remained open throughout and had to do a section at a time. It involved a lot of night work and they were brilliant with helping with that. They have specific signage and lettering they like to control, but they let me choose things like the counter tops and shelving and I branded the deli with our own Relish brand. Henderson Technology has just launched a Queue Buster tablet till which I think could be a great thing to bring in in the future. A manager can come along with their tablet and use it as a cashless till, then flip the screen around so it can be used as a self-serve till.

Where else did you look for decor inspiration?

Richard: I read the trade press a lot and we go to the trade shows. It’s amazing how much you can find in the way of inspiration.

Thomas: America is a big inspiration for myself and for the owners. They went on a study tour with Hendersons a few years back and came back with a lot of inspiration from the likes of Whole Foods.

Arnaud: We didn’t want to change the look of the store in any way so we kept the same colour scheme and shelving for the new section. The only thing we really changed was to put in larger windows to create the illusion of more space.

Peter: I got a lot of inspiration when I went to Düsseldorf. We brought in a new round spinny top for our deli which allows us to display more products and allows the server to reach them all easily, plus it looks interesting.

What flooring did you choose and why?

Richard: We used GTI Gerflor which is made out of recycled plastic and rubber and it’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle so each tile interlocks. You just buy them and bash them together with a rubber mallet. Because it’s rubber it’s incredibly hard-wearing. If you drop a glass bottle on it it won’t break or crack, and if you do damage one of the tiles you can just pop it out and put a new one in. I’ve had it in a few shops for a few years now and there’s no marks on them.

Thomas: We went for a flooring similar to the Gerflor system in that it clips together, but it comes in different shape and size panels and has a wooden effect. It’s called Floor Form.

Arnaud: We extended the flooring we already had, which was the Gerflor system.

Peter: We used Tarkett flooring which is like wood-effect hard vinyl, which comes in planks. It’s not the cheapest, but it looks good and feels soft under foot.

How did the refit affect business, both during and after?

Richard: Alcohol and soft drinks sales are up. We can also hold more alcohol in the chillers now as they are deeper.

Thom0as: Our sales went up 30-35% year on year after the refit and the off licence makes up about 10% of the business now. The fresh food – including fruit and veg, deli and hot food – is about 60% of the business. Bringing the off licence into the store gave it a big footfall boost. We continued trading throughout the refit. It would have been easier to close up shop, but it’s a huge risk to make your customers look elsewhere and expect them to come back to you.

Arnaud: Sales in all the extended sections increased and footfall rose by about 12%. I think that’s because we are now able to get more staff away from replenishment and behind the tills so we can keep queues to a minimum and keep the traffic flow. We didn’t have to close the store at all. We brought in a new Seattle’s Best Coffee machine to replace the Jack’s Beans coffee machine we had, and sales increased by 60%.

Peter: Meat sales are up 52%, accounting for 5% of shop sales altogether, and providing customers with many more options for “tonight’s tea”. The customer feedback has been very good, coupled with the fact that the staff love it. I think when the staff get enthused about the store that really comes across to customers. We had to close the deli for four weeks, which obviously affected business there during that time, but I think remaining open during the refit was a good idea as it allowed customers to see what was happening and then get excited for the changes being made. They were coming in saying they thought it would look great and they were impressed by how much we were getting done between their shopping visits.

What advice would you give to other retailers thinking about doing their next store refit?

Richard: I’ve self-managed a few projects, but this time we used a contractor. It didn’t cost much more but took a lot of pressure off. Sometimes you can spend too long trying to save a few pounds.

Thomas: It’s important to have a good management structure. A lot of our success has come from our team who have come on board during the refit and they’ve had a huge impact on the store.

Arnaud: It’s important to look at your sales mix and your performance report so you know which areas to concentrate on, and work closely with the shopfitter to make sure your ideas are being implemented, rather than their interpretations. Something I would recommend to others is a Krispy Kreme – this makes us £1,500 a week.

Peter: I would say do it – it’s essential retailers keep moving with the times and changing their offering in line with shopping habits. Retailers can be quick to blame external factors when business isn’t going well, but they have to look at what they can change. Question if you would choose your store over your competitor and if you wouldn’t, why not?

What was the biggest part of the investment?

Richard: The crates shelving worked out at about £12,000 and the new refrigeration worked out at about £79,000. The alcohol chillers were the oldest chillers in the store and weren’t running efficiently. We were having issues with maintenance and they were starting to cost a lot in upkeep. The changes to refrigeration have definitely reduced energy costs. It’s hard to quantify exactly, but we are probably saving £300-£500 a month. We will save on electricity bills as well as maintenance costs, plus we’ll have less down time due to maintenance.

Thomas: Expanding the size of the store was a big investment, plus we had to bring in extra shelving and off-licence stock. We also got a new smart oven which can do anything and it works very quickly. It can heat up soup, stew, stroganoff, curry, lasagne, anything. It negates the need for any pans and keeps everything neatly in two chambers. It saves a huge amount of time and manpower. One of our chefs has come from a restaurant environment and he’d never seen one before and now says he doesn’t know how he ever lived without it.

Arnaud: The new soft drinks chillers were the most expensive part as they were new.

Peter: The biggest part was the new refrigeration and the deli kitchen, which were half of the investment.

Did you change the ceiling and lighting? If so, how has this changed the look of the store?

Richard: We already had LED lighting, but it had been in about six years and had started to look less bright, so we upgraded to newer panels with a higher lux rating to give a brighter feel to the whole store. The cost of LED lights has come down so much over the years so it’s well worth upgrading. The chillers with their lights, in combination with the new ceiling lighting, have given the store a fresh look so even the parts that aren’t new, look new.

Thomas: We didn’t do much to the ceiling other than extending it into the new retail space. We also put in some new spotlights.

Arnaud: We kept the same ceiling and LED panel lighting design and just extended it into the new section.

Peter: I took the ceiling out so we could have exposed beams, but we had to paint the new ceiling, which isn’t easy when you’re trading. We got the lights from Imoon lighting and they create a nice atmosphere. At first people thought it felt a bit like a nightclub, but then they liked it.