A selection of our C-Store Champions outline their expectations for the coming 12 months and reveal what will be a priority in their business

Chris Pollard, Barlby Village Stores, Selby, North Yorkshire

Chris is putting all his efforts into halving his energy bills this year by investing in energy efficient kit

Vince Maloney, two Budgens stores in Ascot, Berkshire and Shepperton, Surrey

With sales already on the up, Vince feels confident that 2014 will be a positive year for his business.

Dean Holborn, two Holborn’s stores in Redhill and Nutfield, Surrey

Having invested in a major refit, Dean is hopeful that the fruits of his labour will be evident in 2014

Sat Deo, two Costcutters in Wath and Maltby, South Yorkshire

Sat has his sights set on a new store for 2014, but will be careful not to neglect his existing outlets

What are your key business goals for the year ahead?

Chris: First and foremost, I want to increase sales, so I’ve bought a new freezer. My frozen food sales are more than they should be for the amount of space I have, so I’ve invested in a three-door upright freezer to join my existing chest freezer, in order to better display frozen items.

Vince: I think the first goal will be for us to develop our range and find more innovative products to differentiate ourselves. All of our food to go offerings are around breakfast and lunch, but we don’t have anything for the evening, so we need to work on that. We also need to look at how we can make better use of Facebook and develop our website. We’ve done a lot of work collecting email data so that we can tell customers what we’re doing in store and send them vouchers for new products.

Dean: We’ve got an extension under way, which will add another 600sq ft to our Redhill store, taking it to 1,600sq ft. We’ll also be embarking on a total refit. I hope it will be finished by March.

Sat: I’m looking to buy and open another store. I’ll be looking for a unit within 10 miles of my existing stores. I think that opening a second store is the hardest transition, so I think that opening the third one will be more straight forward. I’ll be looking for a slightly bigger store this time around as I know that I can manage a bigger space on the same running costs, maybe a unit of about 1,800-2,000sq ft. I’m also planning to refit the counter area of our Wath store.

What is your biggest hope for 2014?

Chris: All I can see is things getting better and better, so I’m hoping to see growth in sales. I also want to save money on my energy bills this year by investing in energy efficient equipment. If I can save £1,000 a month I’ll be making a substantial saving.

Vince: Over the past few months our sales have been very good on the back of a good summer, and I hope that this continues. I’m a lot more optimistic that we’ll see opportunities for growth and that we can differentiate ourselves.

Dean: My biggest hope is that the refit produces results. We have specific targets we expect to hit as a result of the changes.

Sat: My hope is that Tesco goes bankrupt! Seriously, though, I’d like for the recession to finally come to an end for convenience stores. Although the UK is officially out of recession, it takes months before the retail sector starts to see signs of recovery.

What is your new year’s resolution in terms of business?

Chris: Just to never stop looking for different ways to save money and to take the business forward - I’ll always reinvest.

Vince: To remain positive and focused and not to rest on my laurels. I want to have a clear vision of what I’m going to spend my money on. The next big thing I’m looking at is fitting doors on chillers at the Ascot and Shepperton stores. As the market gets tighter you have to look at how you can save on energy costs.

Dean: To continue to offer customers the service we do now and grow the business. I’d like to improve our standards and continue to enjoy what we do.

Sat: I’m going to be careful not to neglect my Wath store. Last year we got complacent, so I’m not going to let that happen again.

Where do you think the biggest opportunities lie for business growth in 2014?

Chris: From what I’ve seen, growth is in frozen, and also wines and beers. I know the companies that sell wines and beers cheap and I pass these savings on to my customers. I’m selling 30-40 cases of Blossom Hill a week at £3.99 a bottle, when they cost £7 in Tesco, and I’m making a 20% mark-up. I do the same with Echo Falls. Customers are coming in especially for them and buying other items in-store.

Vince: The biggest opportunity for us is fresh foods. We’ve seen an uplift in fresh over the past six months and we’re working closely with Musgrave to improve our offering.

Dean: Growth in chilled will be key to our expansion, so that will be a major growth area. I hope to grow our fresh fruit and veg, facilitated by the improved buying of Buyco and Palmer & Harvey.

Sat: I think the biggest opportunities lie in the extra services in-store. PayPoint and parcel collection don’t just increase footfall, but also sales. Our parcel collection service makes about £50 a day, and one day we took £150.

What are you most looking forward to in 2014?

Chris: I’m hoping that my café will do well. We opened it last year, but we’ll relaunch it in the spring when the weather warms up. I want all my investments to pay off.

Vince: On a personal note, my daughter is returning from a year’s travelling, so I’m looking forward to her return. I’m also looking forward to cementing our relationships with suppliers and the community.

Dean: From a selfish point of view, I’m just looking forward to seeing the refit come into fruition.

Sat: I’m looking forward to delegating more in 2014. Over the past year we’ve been busy training staff and getting systems right. I was running around like a headless chicken! But now that things have calmed down, I’ll look to give staff more responsibilities.

How do you plan to grow your business knowledge this year?

Chris: I keep my eyes open. I look through Convenience Store magazine and the other trade magazines for ideas and advice, and I constantly take in what I see when I go to the multiples. I always make a point of going to other people’s stores to see if what they’re doing would work in my business.

Vince: By working with Musgrave on developing the business. Also, we’ll do a full range review of our small suppliers in conjunction with Rice Retail Marketing and we’ll find new suppliers and continue to evaluate and evolve.

Dean: Through continued involvement in trade forums such as those with the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) and attending fantastic events such as the National Convenience Show and Pro-retail. You learn things from retailers and suppliers, but you are also inspired by them.

Sat: I’ll grow my knowledge by going to trade shows and Costcutter workshops, which are held in Sheffield. I’ll also be talking to other retailers about what they’re doing in their stores.

What would be your golden piece of advice for fellow retailers in 2014?

Chris: Look at your energy costs. They are set to rise over the coming years so you need to act now. I like to look at other people’s stores and sometimes see these jumbles of chillers together which are just burning energy. I reckon 80% of stores could save 50% on their energy costs.

Vince: Don’t be negative. Keep the faith, keep innovating and keep adapting. Also, we don’t talk enough about our wholesale partners. They’re investing, so make sure you are working with them to develop your business.

Dean: Look after the basics: the business basics such as keeping on top of energy contracts and store basics, such as using epos. It’s also important to get involved with the sector and attend events and support the ACS. Don’t be shy of going to these events. I’ve never looked back since attending the first convenience retailing trade show.

Sat: I’d advise convenience retailers who want to up their game in 2014 to look outside of their stores and go out and see what the multiples are doing in their stores, and examine whether any of their ideas and services can be transferred to your business.

What will you tell staff are the key priorities for 2014?

Chris: I’ll tell my staff to be as customer friendly as they are at the moment and to continue to enjoy working here. We’re a close-knit group and we always have a laugh here, and so do the customers. It’s a real family atmosphere.

Vince: The number one focus for my team in the coming months needs to be maintaining excellent customer service. Customers are very important to our business and we must continue to treat them well and keep them informed about what’s happening
in our store so that they keep on coming back.

Dean: I’ll be telling my staff to focus on maintaining high customer service standards, raising in-store standards and merchandising, and keeping up to speed on changes in legislation.

Sat: Customer service is the number one priority for us here. Sometimes I have to admit that we get too carried away with making the store look nice and then don’t notice the queue at the counter, so that will be an area of focus in 2014.

The challenges

What is your biggest fear for 2014?

Chris: The only fear I have, which every retailer has, is that a Tesco will open up nearby. I don’t think it will happen, though, as previous applications have been rejected.

Vince: The biggest fear for me is how the market is becoming more and more polarised and how the big boys are trying to move into more village locations. Also, there is the added challenge of Morrison’s entering the home delivery market.

Dean: I’d have to say that my biggest fear for 2014 is the upheaval of the tobacco market. That’s going to be a real challenge for the convenience sector as a whole. My biggest fear is that this time next year we will be operating in a place where we’re going dark and have plain packaging to deal with. There is trepidation over what it will be like.

Sat: From a personal point of view, my fear is that interest rates will increase on our business loan, which will obviously have a negative impact on our finances. From a sector perspective, I’m also concerned about standardised tobacco packaging being implemented and how this will fuel the illicit trade.