The Excellence in Impulse awardwinner shows how far the concept can be taken

Every successful retailer knows the value of impulse purchasing, but Bishop Retail group operations director Darren MacDonald has taken the concept to a whole new level and based the design of the group’s flagship branch, Red Tiles Service Station in Durham, around the very concept.

Darren has taken some of the lessons he learnt while working for Woolworths and Somerfield and adapted them to fit the 2,400sq ft Mace store. One of these initiatives is up-selling at the counter. “We have a Perfect Partners programme where we have one product such as bags of Haribo on the tills at a £1 price point and we make sure we offer it to all customers,” he says.

Excellence in Impulse

The team’s effort to create a store filled with temptation for customers was rewarded with the Convenience Retail Award for Excellence in Impulse. The judges were impressed with the store’s range and the team’s attempts to increase basket spend. “High standards of merchandising and an extensive range with added focus on best-sellers helped Red Tiles Service Station stand out from other entries,” says Britvic business unit controller Steve Kelly. “The team’s work in creating a shopper journey around the store helped to make them worthy winners of this award.”

“It’s an idea that came from Woolworths, but I’ve simplified it. I aim for the team to achieve a 1% penetration rate and we’ve been averaging about 2% since we introduced it last autumn.”

He encourages his staff to look for ways to increase customer spend, too. “It only takes a few seconds to offer a customer a product and if they don’t want it nothing is lost and we can ask the next customer,” he says. “We make sure wherever shoppers turn there’s a special offer for them.”

Darren is determined to reach out to customers as much as possible and isn’t shy about utilising every available opportunity to inform them of promotions. In fact, it begins from the moment they start filling up on fuel. Posters on top of the pumps notify them of deals inside and digital displays beside the fuel pumps inform them of the latest promotions. “It’s a constant reinforcement of the offers we have in-store and keeps them notified of all of our promotions,” Darren says.

The strategy continues when they enter the store. Darren is keen to make the most of the ‘customer journey’ and has two options for his customers: “There’s the fast lane, which seems to be used mostly by customers buying fuel,” he says. “This aisle leads directly to the till and has impulse confectionery and promotional displays along the way. It’s aimed at customers in a hurry, but who may be willing to pick up a few items on impulse.”

For customers who aren’t in a hurry, Darren has designed the store for maximum sales potential. “The shopping lane threads through the store,” adds Darren. “It moves from fresh food to soft drinks through to the grocery section, with plenty of promotions dotted throughout. We like to think of ourselves as a convenience store that happens to sell fuel, rather than petrol forecourt that has a store attached.”

Not an inch of space is wasted in the store and every aisle has at least one promotional display. Darren has even placed a promotion for cleaning products on top of the chillers.

Customers are tempted to linger by the store’s hot beverage and food-to-go offer. Darren has set up some tables and chairs where shoppers can sit and enjoy a hot beverage or snack. “It’s very popular at lunchtimes. We’ve had roadworks on the roundabout outside the store for several months now and this is a perfect place for workers to come for lunch,” he says. “We also find that people walk up here in the evenings for a coffee. There’s free Wi-Fi so customers can bring their laptops.”

Planning ahead

Darren is a big believer in following planograms and every Sunday evening is spent creating a weekly guide for the store managers to study on Monday morning. The guide includes three promotional planograms downloaded from the Palmer &Harvey website, a duty checklist for the week, and sales data for the previous week.

These guides then become the store managers’ bible for the week. “It’s essential for a retailer to use their sales data to assess what is selling and what isn’t,” he explains. “Far too often retailers will get emotional about their products and then not realise what is actually selling, against what they would like to be selling.

“If the managers follow these guides and apply them they will hit 90% of the store’s potential,” he explains. “The other 10% is up to the managers. Different ideas work in different stores so it’s important to provide some leeway for my team that allows them to try new things.”

He points out that managers also get a chance to put forward ideas. “There’s no such thing as a bad idea,” he says.

Using the guides, Darren and his management team will walk through the store on a weekly basis and mark off the top 50 best-selling products of the previous week with a red dot, so that staff know that these are must-stock products and shelves need to be replenished regularly.

“These are the products we cannot sell out of and we make sure that we always have a fully stocked display of them,” he says.

Bishop Retail has also implemented a ‘try before you buy’ initiative so that customers and staff are able to sample new products. Darren says getting staff involved with this helps them sell the new lines. “If there’s a new product we’ll hand some samples out among the staff for them to try,” he says. “It’s just another way they can interact with customers; letting them know what they think of a new product and whether they’d recommend it.”

Darren has extended this initiative to the fresh fruit and vegetable offering in the Red Tiles store. “Being a service station, some customers get a bit funny about fuel and fresh food being sold together, but the ‘try before you buy’ offer gives customers the opportunity to taste our produce and see the level of quality for themselves. It also provides a little bit of retail theatre.”

He believes initiatives such as this help build up a good level of trust with customers, which is essential as today’s shoppers demand a high level of quality from every aspect of a store.

“Customers expect top-quality standards when they enter a store so retailers should be giving them this whenever possible,” Darren says. “It’s the way independent retailers can take on the multiples and win.”