In-store theatre not only helps keep shoppers interested but, when done really well, can build loyalty, as our C-Store Champions explain

Baz Jethwa, owner of two Costcutter and one Spar store in Bolton

Baz finds hand-made POS material works well for the deli, fresh food and bakery sections of his stores

Chris Shelley, Shelley’s Budgens in Horsham, West Sussex

A store looks more attractive and welcoming with well-thought out displays, says Chris

Gregory Cochrane, Eurospar Binnian Fresh Foods and Fresh Food Centre, Kilkeel

Gregory says in-store theatre helps a store stand out from the crowd and helps to build customer loyalty

Colin Smith, manager of Nisa Pinkie, Musselburgh, East Lothian

Three dedicated display areas mean there’s always something new for shoppers to see at Colin’s store

How much time and energy do you or your staff devote to creating theatre in store?

Baz: Any time there’s any event coming up we will dedicate a lot of time to creating something in preparation for it. We devote as much time as we can to making the store look good and eye-catching, and creating seasonal bays at the front of the store. When ordering, we plan backwards from the events in the diary and see what’s on offer, what will provide good value and what we can put on promotion. For Mother’s Day we have special bunches of flowers sourced from a local lady, as well as teddy bears, different types of plants, and some gift sets. We’re always trying to offer something different and eye-catching.

Chris: My staff and I devote a fair  amount of time and energy to creating in-store theatre. When we designed the store we gave quite a bit of thought to the flower display and the bakery table as we wanted those areas to look as attractive as possible. Seasonal displays provide us with another opportunity to create an attractive store display. For Valentine’s Day we set up 
a display with confectionery and flowers.

Gregory: For us it’s a really key element of the business. It sets us aside from other businesses and if we do it really well it gets customers interested in coming back to us. If we get it set up early enough, say promoting Valentine’s Day at least two weeks before the day, the customers will see that our store is the destination for everything they need for that occasion. We have part of an aisle devoted to seasonal promotions, which means we can have a display area without having to move around the whole store and disrupt the shopping experience for customers. Having that dedicated area is very important, as is pushing your promotions through Facebook. It’s important to ensure your shoppers know your store has all they need.

Colin: In-store theatre is part and parcel of running the store. The whole idea of this store is to have about 14 display tables used for three display areas around the store. There are two areas as shoppers first come into the store, and there’s another right by the store’s checkouts. The theme of the displays is constantly changing as there’s always something new to promote, depending on the time of year.

In what ways do you think creating in-store theatre helps your business?

Baz: It gets the staff involved and interested and keeps the customers interested. It shows we are being creative and stops the store from looking tired.

Chris: It makes the store attractive and welcoming. It helps to grow sales as it highlights to shoppers the products we’re selling. It looks professional to have displays up for the different events.

Gregory: It’s helped us build our business from the point of view that if you are really good at creating in-store theatre, people will come back to your store the following  year to get everything they need for a specific occasion. We really go to town on making our offer different to what’s found in other stores.

Colin: The main way in which it helps business is that it gives you a focus every three to six weeks and it creates a point of difference. It’s important to keep things interesting for customers, too, as you don’t want them becoming bored of the store and its offering.

Do you think there have been any changes in the way shoppers engage with in-store theatre? For example, do millennials engage less, or are they more likely to try new things if you catch their attention?

Baz: I think the younger shoppers are much more likely to choose to shop at their local convenience store rather than going to the supermarket if they can see that there’s everything they need there. I think they are more likely to be encouraged by in-store theatre.

Chris: I think shoppers now are more used to seeing displays up for the different occasions and so it is something that is expected more now than it used to be.

Gregory: I would say it’s more important now than it has been in the past, because these days you can go to 10 different shops that all look the same, with the same planogram and same range, so using in-store theatre is a great way to differentiate your store.

Colin: I think it’s extremely important nowadays. People are realising they can get different products in our store to those found in the multiples, and displays help to showcase those different lines. In the lead-up to Christmas we had a large selection of Border Biscuits and we were selling them cheaper than in the multiples. I was able to do that because I spoke to Border directly and I could choose my price point. This type of offering is a good way to build loyalty as customers will remember those sorts of items the following year and come back to your store.

What POS material have you created yourself in the past? Were these effective, or do you think you’re better off using supplied materials?

Baz: In the run up to Valentine’s Day we had some tomatoes in for a very good price – six for 50p – so the staff made a sign saying ‘I love you from my head to-ma-toes’. It was just a good way to catch shoppers’ attention so that they could see the good price. I think that when it comes to fresh produce, food-to-go, deli and bakery, it’s best to keep it personal, handwritten and rustic. However, in the off-licence section or somewhere like that, you want to get POS material provided by the supplier.

Chris: I’ve made posters myself in the past. It’s quite easy to do. I just make them on the computer and I can print them off at home as I’ve got an A3 printer, which is very handy. I would say there’s room for both the provided material and the handmade material and they often work well together.

Gregory: I think about 60% of what we use comes from head office and the other 40% we create or buy-in ourselves. There’s a discount shop nearby who sells the balloons that we use. It’s not a big expense and we give them to kids after we’ve finished with them.

Colin: We use Nisa’s provided POS, but we can also create our own shelf talkers easily on the computer. Sometimes it’s good to create our own if we want to use a bolder and more eye-catching colour scheme, or create something personalised.

Is there anything you’ve always wanted to do, but never had time to do, or something impressive you’ve seen elsewhere that you  would like to recreate?

Baz: I’ve always wanted to get more involved in the annual Baby and Toddler Event where shops put their baby products on promotion. This doesn’t work for us because we don’t have the space or the POS material.

Chris: Christmas is the one season that’s always a nightmare as 
everything is fighting for space, so we could always do with more space for that occasion. But the store is much bigger than the CTN store we had previously and now we have spare gondola ends for promotion products and we have much more capability than previously. We don’t have a massive window so we can’t create large displays there, but generally I’m happy with our abilities.

Gregory: Not really. But I think that this year we are going to be doing more theatre around shopping missions, as opposed to seasonal occasions. For example, I think we’ll make more of a display out of the meal-for-tonight mission.

Colin: Not really, although I would quite like to be able to bring in a tractor  trailer-type display table. I’ve seen that sort of thing being used in supermarkets and I think they look very effective, but I haven’t been able to source one myself. I actually found my display tables after speaking to the manager of a BHS store who told me I could source some I’d seen in their store from Ikea.

What are your main methods of creating theatre in your store?

Baz: As well as the displays we do a lot of cross-merchandising and creating spaces by bringing several items together. In the wine cellar we also put boxes of chocolates, and we put small stacks of wine with the gift cards just to encourage people to buy something extra. We also like to do a meal for two and a bottle of prosecco for £10. Things such as this make it easy and convenient for the customer to pick up several items and increase their basket spend.

Chris: We’re lucky that Budgens does a good job of supporting us by providing POS material for seasonal occasions, including bunting, displays and posters. We use what they provide and then top it up with creative things. For example, in the past we bought Halloween lanterns that light up, and for Christmas we’ve bought present boxes that light up. My staff will help to come up with the ideas but I take the lead in this work and I will be the one to buy extra decorations.

Gregory: We will bring everything together in one place, using POS material and decorations to create theatre, and then promote the offer on Facebook. We have also run competitions to get kids involved. For Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day we’ve run a colouring-in competition in which kids could win a meal for their mum and dad. Spar is really good at getting the theme right. On the front of their leaflet we had a Valentine’s Day dinner promotion so we pulled all the elements of that meal together in a spider fridge and brought the cards, chocolates, helium balloons and gift ideas in around that offering.

Colin: The main method we use is the display tables and placing the POS material around those to create extra impact.

Of your displays, which have been the most effective in attracting interest from shoppers?

Baz: We created an all-pink display in support of Breast Cancer UK. We just walked around the store and picked up anything pink which we thought could work - rosé, pink Boost, pink Shloer - and we raised funds for Bolton Hospice. That was a very eye-catching display and enjoyable for us to do.

Chris: I think the Pancake Day display we created did as well as any we’ve done. We put flour, pancake mix, Nutella, lemon juice, lemons, sugar and syrup next to our eggs display with a ‘Pancake Day’ sign hanging from the ceiling. We saw a really good increase in sales and the display was in a high-footfall area so worked really well.

Gregory: One of the biggest ones we did was for Mother’s Day. We pulled all the solutions together, not just cards, boxes of chocolates and gifts, but we also made up lots of wicker baskets with gifts including soaps, chocolates and bubbly. We sold a crazy amount of those. This year I’m dedicating a member of staff to creating those wicker baskets over two days. The Mother’s Day occasion is worth a potential £2,500 in extra sales from flowers alone, so it’s well worth doing properly.

Colin: Halloween tends to be the most effective in grabbing shoppers’ attention as you can buy lots of impactful Halloween decorations at a very low price.