Chaz Chahal: Our store

The new store is a hit with the locals

Posted by: Chaz Chahal Thu, 2 Jun 2016

So this is where one journey ends and another starts… I’ve now come to the end of my column charting the opening of our new store in Inkberrow and it’s time to forge ahead with my new venture.

Looking back at the past 12 months, the decision to join Simply Fresh and work in collaboration with Costcutter has definitely been the right one. Utilising Costcutter’s vast experience in shop fitting and adopting the ideas from Simply Fresh have given our new store the wow factor.

As well as wooing our customers with the look and feel of the store, we have been impressing locals with the range of suppliers, predominantly fine food specialists. Healthy snacks, fancy juices, a big variety of nuts and pulses and a focus on gluten-free have all worked a treat.

While the first month has raced by, we look forward to finalising the plans for our official launch day and driving the business forward by working with the local community. A recent ‘meet & greet’ session by the local councillors held outside the store was a great way of making the store the hub of the village. Similar ideas have been pencilled in for the year ahead.

Utilising technology in business has long been a passion of mine and my investment in it has been paying off. Although we kept the store characteristics rural, this does not mean the systems behind the scene are old. Once again, like my other stores, we opted to invest in Costcutter’s epos system, but this time with added smart tills. These new pieces of kit have already saved me lots of time in cashing up as the new tills automatically count the money in the cash drawer. Furthermore, after every transaction the display shows the operator whether their till is over or under. There were a few initial moans and groans from staff that the till kept displaying a message if the operator was balanced over or under, but it is my belief that ultimately the smart tills have resulted in a more focused style of work. Thus far, this has directly resulted in the tills balancing all of the time.

I hope you have found my monthly features enjoyable. May I take this opportunity to thank the many retailers and suppliers alike who have been so kind to convey how much they have enjoyed my work. I wish you all lots of success.

Store opening

Posted by: Chaz Chahal Tue, 3 May 2016

We did it! After many months of planning, and some setbacks and delays along the way, we finally opened our new-look village store in Inkberrow, Worcestershire, one week ago. What a journey it has been; exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure. However, the feedback from the customers and the village folk has been amazing, making all the strains and stresses worth it.

In hindsight, I don’t think I can be too upset at the problems we faced during the works. A problem with the electrical contractor meant all the different professionals had to work around each other to accommodate each other’s issues.

When we began this project nearly two years ago, our vision for the site was built on a mass of ideas that we had accumulated over many years in the convenience sector. Ensuring the look and feel of the store was relevant to its local environment was always going to be a key factor in wowing the locals. Understanding the needs of the modern consumer and offering the meal-for-tonight solution was also put into the mix, along with 
a good food-to-go option, but with my own spin 
on how to do it.

As we complete little over one week of trading in the new store, I strongly believe there are three big factors as to why the new look store has been so warmly received. First, when we took over the business we were keen to retain the services of the existing staff and keep the boat steady. Then during the year-and-a-half of planning and getting the infrastructure ready, we kept a low profile and did not overly publicise our vision. Finally, during the shop works, which lasted nearly two weeks, we were still able to offer the village a good level of service by trading from the stockroom and using a side entrance for access to a mock-up shop.

Looking ahead, I am planning to work with the Parish Council and local school to officially launch the store by holding a fun day. It was always our plan to open in a low-key manner and allow the staff to become accustomed to their new working environment. In the next few weeks, when all snags have been fixed and the store is in the swing of things, we will look forward to having some fun and officially open the store fit for the future.

Grab the chance to learn

Posted by: Chaz Chahal Thu, 7 Apr 2016

One thing that makes convenience retailing unique is the difference between true independents, symbol groups and multiple convenience retailers. How they all pitch their offer and perceive how they are meeting the needs of the consumer is fascinating.

With all these variations, plus changes from suppliers and manufacturers, the convenience sector can at times feel like a confusing place. Which trends are relevant? What are the propositions from different symbol groups? Which products do your customers need? What inspiration should you offer them?
While your own experience as a retailer counts for a lot, no one person can know it all. That’s why magazines such as Convenience Store play such a vital role in communicating the latest news, trends and product insights from our sector. It’s always good to see top suppliers and manufacturers providing information on up-coming product launches backed by facts and data as to why we should stock them. Similarly, news from the Association of Convenience Stores and organisations such as HIM also inform retailers on key issues and important topics facing us all.

However, attending a trade show or exhibition can be one of the biggest helps, and if I get the time before the new Inkberrow store opens I hope to be able to visit this year’s National Convenience Show later this month.

The chance to meet suppliers and manufacturers face to face and see their products up close is a great way to build a rapport and understand what is relevant to your store. In recent years, there has been an increase in small deli areas within exhibitions where local producers and suppliers can showcase their wares. These areas are great for finding niche products – another perk is to try a sample or two, or three!

Attending shows and reading Convenience Store – the retailer profiles in particular – has given me many ideas on how to ensure my business remains relevant. Taking the time from your business to meet other retailers and suppliers alike is a great way to keep moving forwards and learn a thing or two about what is happening outside the four walls of our own stores.

Smart working

Posted by: Chaz Chahal Mon, 14 Mar 2016

Another fortnight has flown by and after many months of behind-the-scenes building works, the new store shop front is up and wowing the village.

While the village folk look forward to what the new store will bring, I have to plan ahead and pay particular focus to time management. I’ve always been a believer in working hard and, above all, working smart. In my early apprenticeship days I would often work like a disorganised fool, for ever trying to catch my tail. However, many years on technology has dramatically changed my business landscape. Rather than working a few days behind, I am now in control through managing tasks and planning ahead.

Utilising Costcutter’s epos system means I can work remotely and log in from either site to place or check orders. Rather than spending many hours over a week on the road, technology allows me to spend my time more efficiently. When the new store goes live, having the ability to log in to the other stores and place orders will be a massive bonus as it will allow me to spend a good proportion of my time at the new site. Furthermore, synchronising the order days across all three sites will enable me to spend ordering time on certain days, rather than doing the same job every day.

Using other forms of technology will also pay dividends. DropBox, LogMeIn, MyCloud, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and mobile banking all give up-to-date and real-time information. Above all, they all in some form give connectivity, be it with the business, our staff or our customers.

For example, the big benefit of DropBox is that any member of the family and staff can access relevant spreadsheets, templates or pictures at any time and from any device, especially helpful 
as emailing large documents can sometimes 
be difficult.

Whether we prefer to use the traditional pen and paper, iPad or tablet, being organised and managing time efficiently is key if you want to operate multi-sites. Above all, using technology in the right way enables every business owner to stay connected and manage their workload efficiently.

Staffing matters

Posted by: Chaz Chahal Fri, 12 Feb 2016

With the building work nearing its end after the inevitable delays that renovating an old building brings, we have been turning our attention to staffing ready for the time the store does finally open.

We were keen from the outset to gauge what level of interest there would be in the locality for full- and part-time work. As the village is not very big, I was quite apprehensive as to what response we would receive. A small, simple advert at the till point requesting customers or their next of kin register their interest surprisingly yielded a great response.

Importantly, the responses were from all ages, something that is, in my opinion, crucial with the impending living wage and other cost factors.

Before rushing through all the applications, we were mindful to engage with our existing team. Empowering them to help us shortlist the applicants and tapping into their local knowledge made the process much easier. Offering them the chance to choose shifts from a new timetable also helped further strengthen their commitment.

Given the overrun in works, it was a relief that nearly all of the shortlisted candidates are still keen and nearly all successfully interviewed for the various shifts.

Training is next on the agenda. Having developed many of the training manuals, systems and processes in-house over the years, the task of training the new team members will not be as daunting. For example, as we will be utilising the Costcutter epos system, new members will travel to our nearby Bromsgrove store where they will be partnered with an experienced member of staff. Experiencing the system in a real working environment will be a big plus when they are ready to work in the new store.

It will be interesting to see how they all fit in. Ensuring we demand high standards from the off will stand us in good stead over the coming months. After all, how employees execute our vision and standards is vital for the success of any store. The key difference between an average store and a top store is the level of commitment and quality of the people we employ, and just as important is the training and mentoring we give them.

Focusing on 2016

Posted by: Chaz Chahal Thu, 14 Jan 2016

The festive decorations have been packed away for another year, and many business owners including myself are looking firmly to the year ahead. At the Inkberrow store the builders have finished the heavy work and are now fixing little snags. This allows me to focus on other jobs such as staffing - a big task as the new store’s team will be more than double the size of our current team.

This has led me to consider the new National Living Wage (NLW). The impending NLW means that recruiting staff will be a much more arduous process as we attempt to find the right blend between young and mature people. The rate per hour between the different age groups will have a big impact on the overall labour costs.

Another major factor that will impact heavily on businesses such mine will be another round of tobacco regulations. In May the European Tobacco Products Directive is set to be enforced, a move which will see a large number of tobacco products, including all cigarettes in packs of less than 20, become obsolete. While I’m sure this change will throw up some challenges for our new store it could possibly mean an opportunity for a different category, perhaps electronic cigarettes, to shine in the lucrative space where the traditional cigarette gantry would normally sit. I am currently leaning towards housing the tobacco products under our counter at the Inkberrow store.

The need to keep apace with the ever-constant change in the retail scene as well as contending with the many hurdles laid by the government all point to hard work ahead.

It’s clear that we are operating in an industry where food deflation and pricing is keener than ever before, multiple and discounter competition continues to grow, and the consumer has more choice than ever. Adding these factors to the government’s policies means that 2016 is shaping up to be a difficult one.

More than ever it will be the year where the entrepreneurial spirit and skills will be fully tested; where reading and sharing ideas will help everyone to make small wins and these will hopefully translate to an overall gain over the year. Happy New Year and let’s roll them sleeves up!

The devil is in the detail

Posted by: Chaz Chahal Fri, 4 Dec 2015

While the prospect of a new store opening or a renovation seems like an exciting project on the face of it, few people will know the extent of what a retailer has had to go through before landing the end result.

As we come to the end of the building works phase of our refurbishment project at Inkberrow in Worcestershire, we are now turning our attention to the aesthetics of the store. You might think that this would be the easy part. Wrong. The truth is that the intricacies of changing a fascia, shopfront or even exterior lighting are a big deal with local authorities. The fact that we are also trading in a conservation area makes it even more daunting.

A shop front has to conform to stringent planning guidelines. The Simply Fresh shopfront design looks amazing on paper, but I know it won’t pass the first stage in the planning process. So we have worked together to tweak the design to appease the planners. Even the fascia lighting has to be a row of outdoor lamps, rather than trough lighting. The good news is, however, that developing a relationship with the Parish Council over the past year has meant that they appreciate being kept informed of progress and support our new plans. This should hopefully go a long way with the planning officers at the council.

When extending, relaying or refurbishing a store, it’s also important that the local authority is informed and your application is renewed to include these changes. We have decided to use the services of Licensing Matters, who specialise in off-licence regulations, to help us on this matter.

It often pays to use the services of an expert because any error or omission of detail from us could set us back and jeopardise our alcohol licence. This is something no retailer can afford.

These are just some of the boring, but vitally important, parts of the story that are essential in conforming to the rules and regulations needed when modernising or extending.

So the next time you see a picture of a shiny new store opening or big refurbishment, be assured that the business owner has probably been through a whole load of red tape before 
they were able to smile and cut that red ribbon. 
I know I will have!

Store layout is the next step for Chaz

Posted by: Chaz Chahal Mon, 9 Nov 2015

Another month has flown by. The huge steel beams are in place and the builders are making good progress. The electricity has also been upgraded. While these works go on in the background, fine-tuning the shop layout has been fun and frustrating in equal measure.

C-stores can range in size from 500sq ft all the way to 3,000sq ft. However, laying out a store still comes down to a few main factors which are often interlinked. Your location will invariably lead you to your target audience and this will then help set your range, and all of this is limited by space. If you add into the mix current market trends and a focus on localism, then trying to accommodate all these factors is a great challenge.

Inkberrow’s shop floor will be a touch under 1,000sq ft, so when I sat with the Simply Fresh team to discuss store layout, we knew we would be limited by space to implement all the ideas we had.  
We started with the core range, because at the end of the day, ideas and trends are only going to work if they complement a good core range.

Once that was sorted we could take a more detailed look at market trends. I recently saw a presentation by HIM which focused on exactly this. HIM explained that consumers want more than simple convenience; they are looking for meal solutions, food to go, and are very value conscious. They are also more influenced than ever by impulse products and offers.

Even though we have limited space, I believe it will be possible to achieve this and cover all bases. Therefore, the new store will have a coffee machine, complemented by daily deliveries from a local bakery providing pastries and savoury snacks for the consumer who may have missed breakfast. To enhance the core bread range, products from the local bakery will sit on a special stand in the middle of the store.

Furthermore, a low-level chiller will greet customers at the front of the store and offer a meal solution for lunch and dinner. 

Rather than clutter the till point, the new counter will also be designed with cut outs to allow a good space for impulse purchasing.

Freeing up space to meet the needs of the modern consumer has to be at the heart of a good convenience store, no matter what its size.


It's not all going Chaz's way

Posted by: Chaz Chahal Mon, 12 Oct 2015

It’s the start of October 2015 and building works at Inkberrow are progressing well. If only I could say the same thing for our post office application. It’s fair to say that over the past few months we have been on a roller-coaster ride with the village folk and their beloved post office. But let’s start at the beginning.

When we first took over at Inkberrow one of our parish councillors and the local post office rep were immediately keen to woo us with the new Local model and the option of relocating the village’s existing post office into our store. I was happy; the appeal of being able to offer shoppers all services under one roof seemed perfect.

So began the arduous process of applying for the post office. After months of collating paperwork, adjusting business plans and having interviews I learned that the application was successful – the next step was the public consultation. A piece of cake, I thought.

At the monthly parish council meeting, normally attended by a handful of villagers, the hall was full, and I was asked to explain the reasoning behind my application, which I duly obliged: Relocating the post office into our store would give shoppers longer opening hours every day, and cement the future of the post office for years to come.

The public did not agree. They wanted things to stay the same, citing parking and security issues among others in opposition. Councillors had to bow to public pressure, and so did not support the relocation. We withdrew our application.

Within weeks, a BBC documentary aired highlighting the transformation of the Post Office. It explained how up and down the land the Post Office was moving into convenience stores in order to allow it adapt to consumer needs and remain competitive. The mood in the village changed and it dawned upon our customers that I had talked sense at the public meeting. However, it’s too late now.

A full refurbishment of a store is a costly exercise. When you design a store you factor in services and products you would like to offer. In our scenario, a public consultation before the application could have saved a lot of time and effort, not only in the application process but design, too. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

New store, new brand

Posted by: Chaz Chahal Wed, 9 Sep 2015

My business relationship with our symbol partner, Costcutter, recently passed the 10-year milestone. Over this time I’ve developed great working friendships with many members of the Costcutter team and been on quite a journey with our existing Costcutter stores in Bromsgrove and Kidderminster.

When you work with a group of people and a firm for so long, with mutual benefit, then it seems hard to consider other options when deciding which symbol group to assign to a new site.  But, each site is unique and what necessarily works at one store, may not work at your next. 

If, like me, you are a big believer in systems and processes and use your epos system to help drive the business, then opting for a new symbol partner while working on your existing stores is a daunting task.
Costcutter could have easily served the needs of the affluent village community at our new store in Inkberrow. The village has a middle-aged population and a growing number of new family households, and Costcutter’s quality design and store layouts would have seamlessly slotted in to the local environment offering a clean, modern and vibrant convenience store. 

However, I’ve always had a vision for the type of look and feel that I want to achieve at Inkberrow, and when Costcutter Supermarkets Group took a stake in the Simply Fresh brand last year, my interest was instantly spiked.

Having seen pictures of new Simply Fresh sites such as Downton, which featured in Convenience Store last issue (28 August), and having visited a Simply Fresh store in nearby Alcester, I was confident that the brand would be the perfect fit for the area and our business.

The CSG stake in Simply Fresh means I can continue to use the same epos system, work with the same product range and benefit from the P&H supply. A meeting with the Simply Fresh team confirmed that it would be best placed to achieve my vision for a rustic, rural feel at Inkberrow. 

Serving an affluent clientèle in a rural setting with a store feel and look to match will work well.  Placing emphasis on fresh produce and BWS, complemented by a good core range, will hopefully meet our customers’ expectations. 

Location, location, location

Posted by: Chaz Chahal Tue, 14 Jul 2015

Location, location, location. We all know how important it is and that was the case when we were searching for a site for our third store, but with the competition to find a cracking site fiercer than ever, how to find one is the million dollar question.

You will come across a good operator in a poor location who, despite their excellent skill set and great personality, just can’t get the store firing. And then you’ll find another retailer that has no concept of modern needs and trends, but because they are in a key location are cooking on gas.

When we began our search, the remit initially was pretty open. The site could be empty, or a going concern. I’m a firm believer that you usually get what you pay for, so paying good money for a good store wouldn’t have put us off.

I registered with various online business agencies and set up email alerts through Daltons Business with parameters for budget, distance, leasehold or freehold and price and so on.

However, aware that not all gems are available online, building a rapport with established and reputable business agents such as Christie & Co, was also vital.

As I waited and waited for the right site, I found myself making viewings to stores many miles away and would often travel over an hour through winding A-roads, and I had to question ‘Could I do this on a daily or regular basis?’.

As fate would have it, after months of searching, one afternoon I decided to do a random manual search on my ipad and a newly listed store popped up. I was instantly excited. The store wasn’t far from Bromsgrove, so I jumped in the car and went to visit it as a customer to see if it was something we could work with.

We then contacted the agent who was in charge of the listing and arranged a formal viewing with the vendor the very next day. We had a family meeting that night in which we all agreed that despite the huge amount of work needed, including an extension and total modernisation, the potential was clear.

Just 48 hours later we shook hands with the vendor, and in my next column I will talk about the Forge Shop in Inkberrow and how I plan to polish it from rough gem to sparkling diamond.

To buy or not to buy

Posted by: Chaz Chahal Tue, 23 Jun 2015

Hello and welcome to my first column as I share the challenges of developing my new store in Inkberrow, Worcestershire, for the next 12 months.

From an outside perspective, taking on a new store can seem like an exciting challenge, but with some big caveats attached. The government shouts that there are more entrepreneurs in Britain than ever before, yet in the world of convenience retailing it is almost harder than ever to maintain good profit levels in the face of the evolving retail landscape.

Growing your business by acquiring more sites does not equal automatic success. Acquiring more sites requires a lot of capital, increased overheads, good staff and, above all, excellent management. When the owner of a good business has to divide his or her time across different sites, then to provide a high level of standard consistently across all sites requires great interpersonal skills.

Acquiring more sites is also more difficult. In the current financial period where banks are more careful about lending, where the multiples and independents are after the same sites, and the increased demand causes higher prices, it is tough to find a good site at the right price. The convenience market is very much in demand.

If you're a business owner that is performing well from one site then before departing with all your hard-earned savings and expanding, you should ask yourself whether you could squeeze more out of your current business. Do you have the right systems and processes that will allow your current business to perform well and replicate that at a new site? Do you have a good team you can depend on to offer good service when you are not there? If you already run two sites, what has worked well and can you replicate those experiences and processes at a third site?

Finally, if you know somebody who has 10 sites and you have one, do not automatically think they're more successful. More sites means more overheads. More sales does not directly translate into more profit. However, if, like me, you feel that you have a formula that works, then why not push yourself and expand? I purchased my third site earlier this year and in my next column I'll explain the process I went through to find it.

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