A number of c-stores have taken on the multiples when they moved in on their patch. But have they sustained the fight? Robin Mannering reports

This magazine has showcased a number of retailers who have stood their ground when the multiples moved in on their turf. But have they sustained their success in the months since they appeared on these pages?

North East Convenience Stores director Sanjeev Vadhera and his brother Naveem had redesigned their Nisa store in Whickham in Durham in a bid to see off competition from a neighbouring Tesco Express in February 2012. The refurbished store focused on British and local produce, exemplary customer service and community engagement. The message was communicated clearly in-store, including cartoon cutouts of the manager reminding customers to ‘Ask Paul’ if they had a query, or wanted help carrying shopping to their car.

The results were impressive: despite sales dropping by nearly 30% in Tesco’s first week, they stabilised at just 10% below pre-Tesco levels.

More than a year on and competition has grown fiercer. “Two months ago Heron Frozen Foods opened next to Tesco Express, adding competition in an already crowded market,” says Sanjeev. Yet sales at his Nisa stores have increased “and we managed to stabilise the loss down to 5% of grocery sales”, he adds.

The store has undergone another reinvention, in the form of a Post Office Local counter, a large £1 range and a new value coffee-to-go solution. “The early signs are encouraging and we are now holding our own against Tesco and Heron!” he remarks.

In the market town of Biggar, an hour south of Edinburgh, Donna and Bruce Morgan boldly opted to “take on Sainsbury’s” when it opened a Local outlet 200 yards away from their Brownlie’s store in November 2011. The couple invested in a £100,000 revamp with the help of symbol group Best One, and analysed Sainsbury’s strengths and weaknesses. Consequently, they introduced news and mags, freshly-made products - with filled rolls bringing in £2,000 a month - more quality Scottish produce, and a number of Brownlie’s-branded products. As a result, sales grew by 12% following the refit, despite the presence of Sainsbury’s.

Things are even better now. “Business has exceeded expectations over the past year - we’re about 15% up,” says Donna. Like Nisa Whickham, the store is taking on a local post office after one closed nearby, so has just undertaken a mini refit to make room for it. “We think the added footfall will increase sales further,” Donna adds.

Big breakfast

The store has capitalised on the morning rush, selling £1 cups of coffee from a new machine, and competitively-priced filled rolls at £1.50. “We now turn over about £400 between 6am and 8am, which we were never doing before,” Donna says.

When C-Store visited last year the couple had experimented with wine-tasting sessions, which are now taking place four times a year, to great success. Throw in a new epos system and Brownlie’s future is looking brighter than ever.

It’s positive news at Mark Canniford’s Spar store in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, too. He managed to recover the 10% loss of sales suffered when a Tesco Express opened. Hot food and promotions focusing on round price points - combined with loyalty cards - kept his customers coming back. He also nurtured strong links with his community, both through his role as a retailer and as a town and district councillor.

Eighteen months on and Mark is buoyant. “Sales are up 9% on last year, partly due to the weather, but also by doing more of the same - plenty of offers and good customer service.”

But he also believes Tesco’s popularity is on the wane. “More and more people don’t want to use Tesco. The public want choice and fair play they don’t want to see the big boys dominate completely.” ■