David Knight's Tales

The 'F' word

Posted by: David Knight Tue, 6 Feb 2018

The convenience sector has been a whirlwind these past few months and it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. For me, the surprising thing is the speed and perhaps the players now involved in it.
It is clearly emotive for many retailers that their symbol group may be in business with, or owned by, a multiple that has been the enemy to independent retail.

What has been most surprising to me with everything that that has been happening is the re-emergence of the ‘F’ word. The word ‘franchising’ still sends a small shiver down my spine. Many Budgens retailers may feel the same.

While I may feel optimistic about the new dawn approaching, I would be very wary about franchising. The problem in our sector is that a retailer, if they are sensible, will tailor their store to their customers and area. The franchising model doesn’t really work well to achieve this. The point of franchising is to deliver consistency, not diversity.

Our sector is not like food service, which lends itself to that model more readily. Many of us want to be independent and have control over our destinies. When the franchising model does not work for you or your location and you need to change what you are doing, you might find it difficult to do so.

We experienced this with Musgrave and it was very damaging for the business for that period. I have always said I would never return to franchising for my stores because of the fundamental loss of control. But really I should never say never; the thought of an Amazon Go franchise might just make me rethink!

A 'lost year' in retail

Posted by: David Knight Wed, 4 Oct 2017

It’s that time of year again. We have completed next year’s Easter egg orders, the nights are drawing in, and with The X Factor and Strictly back on TV (groan), Christmas is in the air.

It’s now that I start to finalise my business planning for next year, and never have I looked back at the previous year’s plans and seen so many abandoned objectives.

It’s easy to blame the Booker and Tesco merger announcement for my lack of progress this year. But in truth there has been so much uncertainly in our world that I am pretty sure my 2017 ‘wait and see’ strategy would still have been employed.

In my case, I have put off a full refurbishment of our Hassocks store, along with an IT platform upgrade. Deciding what direction to take the store has now become a huge priority and with such a big capex requirement, I am tussling with just how radical I want to be.

We know the store must be able to absorb further labour cost increases, so changing the IT and till systems will become paramount to increasing productivity and ultimately reducing labour costs. We know that food to go is likely to continue increasing, along with more requirement for good-quality fresh foods backed up by lots of local alternatives. We know the strength of having in-store concessions, and we know that any long-term reliance on sugar, tobacco or alcohol is probably a bad way to design a store.

So, on reflection, my 2018 objectives have become more concise and manageable and, barring any January surprises, the ‘wait and see’ strategy will hopefully be confined to what may become known as my ‘lost year’ in retail.

Tipping point

Posted by: David Knight Mon, 24 Jul 2017

We can all see that inflation is beginning to rear its head, and customers are starting to notice. In our stores we are seeing pricemarked packs moving up in price, pack sizes getting smaller and staple items starting to move up at wholesale price. I have absorbed three significant price increases in milk alone over the past year.

Trying to explain this to customers is difficult. We have engaged in a strategy of moving much of our core product range over to price mark variants. This enables us to at least stand behind a retail price which if it moves upwards gives that increase an air of legitimacy to the consumer.

The real problem is that food prices have been kept artificially low for so long thanks to a variety of reasons, and there must be a tipping point where this is no longer sustainable for everyone in the sector.

Many of us have been wanting this inflation for a while, too. We want to see more cash going into our tills. A rising cost base that is exponentially increasing when the consumer still thinks four pints of milk should be £1 is not a good place to be.

With further food price fluctuations on the horizon I am left wondering what other strategies are left for me, and the answer is very few.

My biggest issue is how you get the consumer to understand how precarious the food supply chain has become. Weather, currency fluctuations and fewer players in food production have dramatic consequences on prices and availability.

Will consumers further embrace more regional foods, or is the £1 milk culture too strong to break?

Cautiously optimistic - again

Posted by: David Knight Tue, 2 May 2017

Almost two years ago I wrote here about our ‘cautious optimism’ regarding the Booker acquisition of Budgens. That optimism has been proven to be correct with a significantly enhanced model achieved in a relatively short time, and it’s a good job, too. The scale of challenge and change that we face has never been greater.

So even before the shock announcement about Tesco and Booker many of us had concluded that further consolidation in the symbol market was a necessity.

In my opinion the future of successful convenience retailing will be explicitly linked to our ability to offer highly-credible fresh food ranges, both in the food-for-now and food-for-later shopper missions.

We must also have the ability to engage with consumers using different technologies, with the caveat that this all has to be achieved within a scale that makes it profitable for the supplier, wholesaler and retailer – and acceptable to the consumer.

As independent retailers, we must face the unpalatable truth that we are behind the multiples in these key areas. Certainly, the Tesco-Booker merger presents opportunities around scale and many retailers have speculated on how big a reduction we can expect to see in wholesale prices if the deal goes ahead. I would argue that it’s the unique benefits that only a multiple retailer can provide around fresh ranging and technology that will keep our stores trading successfully. 

Things are not getting any easier in our world so I look upon this merger as an opportunity to ensure my business is fit for the future and find myself back at ‘cautious optimism’ for a second time.

Keeping up with trends

Posted by: David Knight Mon, 12 Oct 2015

It’s been a tough summer down in Sussex with the lack of sun. We really didn’t see any significant sales uplifts and, coupled with fact that nearly everyone seemed to take an extended holiday away from home, it has been a quiet couple of months.

It is becoming harder to predict what sales we can expect from week to week in both our stores. We are seeing a consumer and market that is changing before our very eyes. Customers seem to be hopping from retailer to retailer, taking advantage of any special promotions or coupons available to them. Loyalty appears to be dead and now it is all about the best deal the consumer can get and where they happen to be when they decide they need to do some food shopping.

I speak to our customers a lot and there is a sense of resentment of any time they have to spend shopping, even our older customers. This helps us as local stores, but it reinforces my belief that our stores need to be more than just well stocked, clean and offer efficient service. We need to give shoppers more of an experience; guide them on what to eat; and make it all easily accessible in store so we don’t waste their time.

Food trending is big business; we have just got in Paleo food products, and protein energy balls, maple and guava waters are all selling well. We have also just added another 40 fresh premium lines into our ranges with huge success.

The customer thirst for product has not diminished, but it’s changing rapidly. Our challenge is to keep meeting it. I am excited by working with our new Booker partners to realise this and have been impressed with the level of commitment shown.

Cautious optimism

Posted by: David Knight Tue, 2 Jun 2015

The news that Booker has purchased Budgens and Londis certainly seems to have taken everyone by surprise.

Of course, the fact that Musgrave has exited is no real surprise. Many of us have talked about consolidation and I think it’s now widely accepted that in order to achieve a long-term future, the successful symbols will be ones built on scale, something Musgrave was lacking.

Personally, I am cautiously optimistic about the move. We will soon be part of a big business in the convenience sector, the scale of which should drive more profitable sales. At the same time there appears to be a genuine desire for us to be entrepreneurial in our trading locations, reducing some of the compliance network we were working under.

For the Budgens brand I am even more optimistic. I think that the brand has always stood ahead in terms of range and aesthetic. A simplified, more profitable, model that has less barriers to entry could result in an influx in store numbers and not just from Londis, but from other symbols, too.

As ever the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but there are many Budgens retailers that want to continue on after their 10-year agreement ends and, for the first time in a long time, there is credible reason to do so.

Having just returned from an open retailer meeting with Charles Wilson it seems clear that Booker has big plans, not only for its new customers but for its existing ones, too. It clearly has a strong vision and a strong will to achieve it and 
I can see this deal being a catalyst for further changes in the sector.
But for today I’ll settle for cautious optimism!

Event planning

Posted by: David Knight Mon, 13 Apr 2015

By the time you read this, the Easter rush will be over and hopefully we will all be happy with the way things turned out.

Seasonal events are vital for most to get a boost in revenue. We see it as a huge opportunity to try to attract and retain new customers. Like Christmas, people use our stores a little more at key event times so if we set our stall out properly, the prospect of new regular customers in this market is highly lucrative.

It comes down to planning and more planning. Easter actually started for us the year before when we put in orders about October. Since January we have held a meeting every four weeks to monitor sales and slowly build the consumer offer as we get closer to the main event.

As I write this, the tabloids have proclaimed a national Easter egg shortage and our carefully planned orders are starting to show some ‘cracks’ (sorry, had to get it in somewhere). What has been interesting is to see so many new customers coming in for eggs, moaning about our multiple competitors not having much left apart from own label chocolate eggs.

Many are surprised by the breadth of range we carry and, as our new Budgens brand essence is all about discovery, we have stocked some rather interesting eggs this year, with chocolate Fabergé and Marmite eggs being up front with huge demand. It’s great to see people excitedly picking up products saying ‘We haven’t seen this anywhere before’.

Our challenge now is to capture all of the anecdotes and retain all of our data, have our Easter wash-up meeting and ensure that next year is just as exciting and different for our customers.

Riding the storm

Posted by: David Knight Mon, 16 Feb 2015

After an excellent Christmas, the January blues definitely set in for us in both our stores. This was certainly not helped by the dreaded opening of Sainsbury’s Local in Hassocks.

The week prior to it opening was incredibly stressful. All of your fears come to haunt you at once – usually at 3am. As I expected there was a negative impact on sales at first and I had built a number of new business plans based on worse-case scenarios.

Thankfully, the impact – while painful – was not as bad as we feared. However, it did cause a lot of comment on social media and we even came in for some criticism. One of the more interesting comments was that we were to blame for Sainsbury’s opening in the first place because we had won awards and highlighted the sleepy little village of Hassocks to it!

So we continue to ride the storm and concentrate on what we do best, which is to be great local retailers who care about the customers we serve, something we feel the new Sainsbury’s fails to deliver on. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow retailers for all the good luck messages. It can be an incredibly lonely time being faced with attrition so any positivity was greatly appreciated.

On a more positive note we are proud that both our stores have been shortlisted for the Convenience Retail Awards this year. Despite all the challenges of purchasing a new business and the turnaround that involved and running two refits (and moving house), we are delighted to get shortlisted. Congratulations to all those who have been shortlisted and we look forward to seeing you at the awards!

Lighting up Christmas

Posted by: David Knight Tue, 2 Dec 2014

This year’s ‘Light Up Hassocks’ event went down a storm. About 6,000 people attended – the best year yet. We always put on a festive food fair with our local suppliers, with pride of place being given to the Hassocks Banger, which is sold as hot dogs by Bangers Galore brand owner David Bell himself.

We got great support from General Mills in the form of freebies to hand out, along with a Freddo costume from Cadbury, which had people queuing for a selfie with Freddo himself.

It was nice to see many customers give us compliments about the store and thanks for helping support the event itself.

Our other store in Henfield as yet has no big Christmas community event and this has spurred us on to create such an event, with our new community marketing manager well placed for this as she set up and ran Light Up Hassocks in previous years.

I would advocate all retailers to start really getting involved if they don’t already. Perseverance is key, but once people know that you genuinely want to be involved then the barriers come down.

I am tired of seeing our corporate competitors do nothing in the communities they serve when there is a community event. Just this weekend in my home village 
I saw a well-organised community event fail to be supported by the anchor corporate retailer who no doubt gets to benefit as it’s held right outside their door. The Londis store took the time to support and sponsor, so well done Ramesh!

Community involvement is still one of the ‘trump’ cards left, but to see dereliction of responsibilities by big retailers still makes me mad!

United front

Posted by: David Knight Wed, 8 Oct 2014

We have just finished our small refurbishment in Hassocks last week, with a view to freshen up the store prior to the arrival of Sainsbury’s Local. Customer feedback has been positive with many people believing we have extended!

We have also gone on a hunt for new local suppliers and are pleased to say we have been inundated. We have also just taken on a new community marketing manager for both stores, which we hope will cement some of the community food projects we run.

With my wife Lynette, and now new recruit Michelle concentrating fully on our community strategy, we can finally extend our vision to launch a commercial website and integrated loyalty card scheme. Exciting times ahead!

It has been unfortunate, then, seeing the problems other symbol groups have been having. I think anyone visiting the Convenience Store website would have had at least one wince at some of the comments on there. All independents will understand the frustration, but it was a little sad to see retailers in different symbols get so tribal so quickly.

To put things into context we had the new Sainsbury’s Local management walking our store. My assistant had a brief conversation with them in which the area manager was surprised to learn that we are an independent store – the comment was “but you are Budgens”. 

It’s a stark reminder that we barely register in the minds of the multiples, and that while we may love or hate our retail/wholesale partners we definitely need them. Being negative about each other’s symbol groups seems fruitless.

The heat is on

Posted by: David Knight Mon, 18 Aug 2014

Well, we have finally been able to enjoy some sustained hot weather and sales have been excellent. It’s a relief after seeing so many weeks of changeable weather to get some serious like-for-like growth coming back.

Our main focus at present is the impending Sainsbury’s Local opening in Hassocks shortly. Unfortunately, we are having to start consultations on potential redundancies, all the while trying to maintain our business before the competition opens its doors.

We are lucky that we can offer positions over at our new store, and some people will leave naturally, but it is not a nice task to have to engage in. I understand these are the ‘rules’ of capitalism and that competition is ‘good’, but when you are facing it, the full force of the responsibility (and risk) on your shoulders hits you. With everyone wanting to be back in the high streets, I dare say that all of us will be in this position shortly and no business will be spared the painful decisions.

On the back of intensifying competition, I find it interesting that the term ‘compliance’ is now a buzz word being used by many of the symbol groups. Being part of a ‘firmer’ model with Budgens, I am quite familiar with a more regimented model. I think that many symbols now have no choice but to embark on this road; the days of taking the best bits from your symbol and leaving the stuff you don’t like behind are disappearing fast. Like it or not, to compete with the multiples we need our symbol partners (whoever they are) to be successful, too, and that requires compliance from us.

Now, bar the odd hurricane, let’s hope the good weather continues!

Up and running

Posted by: David Knight Mon, 24 Mar 2014

A lot’s happened since my last column. We finished the refurbishment of our new store in Henfield, West Sussex, at the end of February. Since then we have had great customer reaction and sales have been very encouraging. 

We worked with Budgens to create some unique local marketing, telling the community about our family and how we are committed to engaging within them. It’s been amazing to see how many customers already knew about us and our store in Hassocks, and we have been constantly asked about when we are going to start running community projects in Henfield. When you operate in your own bubble you can forget quite how easy it can be for goodwill to spread.

We are still getting used to the reality of running two stores and I find a lot of my time is being spent getting our new store to operate like the Hassocks one. It is a theme that I spoke about at the recent Budgens conference. It is very tempting to try to do things differently in the new store, but keep things simple and keep things the same is my new motto. If a procedure, works well in Hassocks, it will work in Henfield, too. 

What has been rewarding to watch is how the team in both stores has stepped up, particularly in Hassocks. Many of them have been coming over on a regular basis to support the team at Henfield, and they have grown in confidence before my eyes. 

As retailers we can focus a lot of time on everyday issues, but the satisfaction I have gained from seeing this over the past few weeks has been incredibly humbling and reinforced my belief in ensuring that all of our teams, however big or small, are appreciated.

New year, new store

Posted by: David Knight Mon, 6 Jan 2014

Finally, after lots of false starts, Knight’s Budgens has expanded. We purchased our new store in Henfield, West Sussex, last week and as of yet I have failed to pause for breath! The store itself (aside from facing the threat of one the mults next year) is in a great location and we feel we can bring a lot of what has worked so well for us in Hassocks to this store.

We are very pleased with the initial reaction as many villagers had used our Hassocks store and were looking forward to what changes we could make. Lots of my fellow multi-site retailers have offered me words of wisdom over the past few weeks and I thank them for all for their kind and honest advice. Even over the past week, with Christmas being so close, it is easy to feel pulled in different directions between the stores.

But with the stores just seven miles apart we are already experiencing the benefits by transferring stock between the sites. We have been able to use the fantastic Budgens delivery service in this process as the same lorries deliver to both daily. When the dust finally settles in January and I get some  time to analyse things there will be lots of group synergies that I hope to exploit.

While all the madness was going on before the purchase it was great to see Sunder Sandher pay a visit to Hassocks on his ACS tour. Sunder got to experience just how important the local community is to us and saw the culmination of lots of hard work in the annual ‘Light up Hassocks’ event which we help to organise. So with only a week to go before Christmas I wish you all  successful trading and hope that everyone gets to spend at least some time with family and friends over the period.”

Breaking bad

Posted by: David Knight Mon, 7 Oct 2013

I write this column quite literally from my car sat outside my store having just come to witness the mess and destruction of an attempted break-in. A thoughtless gang decided to attempt the break in at around 2am on Sunday morning. Having failed to get in via the back door, they moved on to the fire exits and finally the front automatic doors. As I sit here counting the cost of their escapades, the only saving grace is that they did not gain entry and steal tobacco and spirits which they apparently got away with at a local Co-op on a night of destruction in West Sussex.

During my summer lull I decided to upgrade the building security which included heavy duty steel fire doors (normally the weakest point of entry) - what a prudent decision that turned out to be. I was not prepared, however, for the lack of police support.

One of the would-be robbers had entered the store just before closing and artfully removed an alarm sensor from one of the fire exit doors. Thankfully a  member of my team spotted this when locking the store and dutifully informed our security company and police that it appeared we were due for a break-in attempt. When it came, in the early hours, the police refused to respond to the first alarm trigger as the gang tried to prize the fire door open, stating they needed a second activation in another part of the store before they could respond. This allowed the gang more than 20 minutes to cause over £2,500 worth of damage to the building, and put one of my team at risk who responded to the call.

It hits home, sat here in my car at 3:30am, what a tough life being an independent retailer can be sometimes. It is bad enough that we have to deal with rising rates, wages, rents, and ridiculous planning laws allowing increased untamed competition. We are also faced with the inevitable insurance challenges and lack of support from people meant to help protect our businesses when bad things happen.

It’s time people start to truly understand the challenges faced by retailers. In the meantime I would advise all store owners to invest in steel fire doors as required. It may be the best decision you make. I bet the Co-op wishes it had!

Working holiday

Posted by: David Knight Mon, 9 Sep 2013

Well we all wished for a summer and we have been blessed - my Native American sun dance clearly worked this year (it failed the previous four times!) and we saw a 20% hike in like for like sales during the sunny spell.

However the dreaded summer holidays did present a challenge in our village of Hassocks, with footfall and consequently sales falling in that order. While it’s great to have an affluent demographic it can be hard when the summer holidays come along because it seems as though everyone in the village takes long holidays abroad (lucky them!). I have spent the last five years trying new initiatives to boost this six-week sales period with limited success; it’s very difficult to increase customer spend if the customer is not in the country.

So, we decided to take a different view this year, using the period to help our operation run smoother via various initiatives such as encouraging our key staff to take holiday, and utilising the younger staff base to cover.

We also instigated a full training review to use the period to ensure that all training was refreshed, such as under-age sales validations which keep us legal and compliant. We also conducted a large proportion of our range reviews during this period, ensuring our sections were up-to-date with the most relevant range and that we were stocking key category and new lines.

I also used the ‘free’ time personally to review my financial business plan that I write for the business every year and updated it where necessary. This is key to concentrating on my strategy for the latter part of the year and where we need our energy. I already do detailed weekly sales and cash flow analysis and monthly financial management accounts, but a good holistic review of performance to date over the year is something that I find really concentrates the mind.

It gives me a lot of confidence when I know where my business is and what is doing or not doing and I find it scary when I speak to other business owners (not just retailers) who don’t do this as a matter of course. I know personally that things can slip very easily and before you know you it can have a real problem. As is in most areas of life these days, knowledge is power!

Silly season

Posted by: David Knight Mon, 24 Jun 2013

Well, we are pretty much half-way through the year and sales have been kind in May and the start of June. As expected, the first period of prolonged warmer weather pushed sales up, and our team did an excellent job of planning and executing our  strategy for warm weather.

I took a gamble this year on expensive premium-flavoured charcoal and a large range of garden toys and accessories, and have been surprised to see sales of £1,000 in just over a week. It has also enabled me to have a ‘told you so’ smug grin around my management team, who were not impressed when they saw what I had purchased, but as ever they are coming round to my way of thinking!

Now with all our thoughts turning to longer warmer evenings, and in my case cold glasses of cider, it seems only fitting that our next management meeting after the Budgens cluster meetings will be focused around winter, and in particular writing our Christmas orders. Such is the perverse nature of the industry sometimes that we have our thoughts in at least two seasons at any given moment. It’s really hard doing Christmas orders in June, and it makes it harder when you know that seasonal-free order lines are few and far between. With so many lines on ‘pre-order only’ the pressure is on not to make a mistake.

I was a little gloomy last week when I read about Andrew Thornton deciding to leave his Budgens Crouch End store. As we operate in the same brand, and I share many of Andrew’s ideals around food sustainability, it did seem that the similar values that my business is based around were being challenged. It goes to show that competition is pretty unforgiving to all, no matter how strong a brand, and that whoever gets to own or run that business has a massive job trying to maintain it as a true community store.

So I end in wishing that everyone gets to spend some time out in the sun; we all work so hard and Mother Nature has been so cruel these past few years. I am off to the garden to sip some cold cider and order chocolate yule logs!

Point of difference

Posted by: David Knight Wed, 8 May 2013

I recently returned from the National Convenience Show in Birmingham, from which I came away with a very positive outlook. The show felt a little smaller than previous years, but the companies and suppliers that were there felt very relevant, and the overall atmosphere was excellent.

At first I did feel a little overwhelmed by the number of electronic cigarette suppliers dishing out free samples at every turn. It feels like the energy shots invasion all over again.

It was also great to catch up with so many retailers that I hadn’t seen in a while and put the convenience sector to rights over coffee!

When talking about our sector there seems so much going on and it’s difficult to remember a time when so much change has happened in such a short space of time.

For me, it’s all about the two Cs: competition and consolidation. Back in my student days I wrote a dissertation on the future of the grocery sector, detailing the expected increases in competition and consolidation of the major supermarket brands, with the end result being too much grocery retail selling space in the market.

I also predicted that specialist food and convenience retailers would benefit on the back of this. It is this view that led me to establish my store around specialist local foods that really help to differentiate my store from the ‘sterile’ multiples.

Now we see Tesco writing down its land bank and cancelling some of its big store development projects, while at the same time entering the symbol franchising model in our sector, and buying coffee shops and restaurants.

It’s now our market that is witnessing an increase in competition as the multiples race to gain market share. Soon it will consolidate further, and who knows how that will manifest itself? All I know is that we all have competition with us, or coming soon (thank you, Sainsbury’s Local).

We all need to understand what makes us different and better in order to survive as the market matures.

Seasonal sales

Posted by: David Knight Mon, 18 Mar 2013

2013 appears to be flying past even quicker than last year, which I didn’t think was possible. Before I knew it the Pancake Day and Valentine mega week had been and gone, proving a huge success in Hassocks and thus proving our customers are both romantic and crazy for cooked batter! Mother’s Day has just passed, which prompted us to build a garden centre-sized display outside our store, which I am pleased to say 
all sold.

Our sales this year have been challenging to date, but we are still up on the year. If I look back at our sales this week and our like-for-like performance it really does show how important ‘events’ have become to our business. We put a lot of effort into Pancake Day, selling cast iron pans, Chantilly cream, pre-mixed batter, leafy lemons and traditional French buckwheat crêpes. In the past we would have always put on a display, but the poor trading conditions are forcing us to work that much harder to maximise any small event in the 2013 calendar.

The same goes for Valentine’s and Mother’s Day, both of which have significantly boosted sales. We have decided to attempt to capitalise on this for the rest of the year. We currently have planned our annual St George’s Day local tasting event, American Independence Day event (works very well with the ranges of American product available now), back to school stationery extravaganza and just about anything else we can hang our hat on to try to drive sales.

In my former life in the corporate world, I can still hear the words of an old area manager about setting up the store around some ‘statements of intent’. For example, if you have a good deal or something to shout about, make sure the customers are under no illusion when they come in.

Our customers were under no illusion about our intent when it came to the recent events, and with Easter coming up they will have an eggstravaganza to look forward to in Hassocks (had to get it in!).

Let it snow

Posted by: David Knight Wed, 30 Jan 2013

After a great Christmas trading period the stark reality of January is always sobering. Despite setting the store up with a strong value proposition, the ‘money tap’ has been well and truly shut off in Hassocks.

Sales have been up on the year, yet it’s never been so hard to get them through the tills. As a result, anyone who has been near me in the past month will no doubt have heard me mention the ‘S’ word more than a few times.

“All we need is snow to help things along” has apparently been my most quoted phrase, and my team, who had been avidly following the weather forecast, were all very excited when they were finally able to predict when the white stuff would descend on the village.

Our customers were equally excited, and the store was busy even before the snow started to fall. When it actually came, it went crazy!

With queues to the back of the store and an insatiable demand for bread, milk and soup (which quickly turned into an insatiable demand for pretty much anything on the shelves) a warm sales glow came over me.

January is a tough month in retail and the snow has just eased that pressure for us. The cash flow pinch point where we pay for wages, Christmas stock and loan repayment all in the same week has been made much easier.

I also think there are extra benefits, and I am always hopeful when we get ‘weather events’ that drive new customers into the store. These are customers who don’t shop with us normally, giving us an excellent opportunity to show off our business.

A good example was when I spoke to one lady during the snowy weather who asked me when we had refurbished (which was 2009) and couldn’t believe how nice it was. She said she would shop more locally now as she didn’t realise how much local food we stocked. This was despite a lot of local advertising and community engagement.

John Lennon tells us ‘all we need is love’. However, I agree with Dean Martin and say ‘let it snow, let it snow, let it snow’.

Planning for Christmas

Posted by: David Knight Mon, 3 Dec 2012

So it’s officially Christmas, the music is blaring in some shops and the battle of the Christmas TV adverts has begun, but more importantly we have had our annual ‘light up Hassocks’ event. What an event too, the biggest yet and our Christmas local food fayre went down a storm…helped along by our festive children’s balloon entertainer and hot chestnut stall!

I have found the last couple of years festive trading excellent but as always challenging and we have big question marks over this year. We have planned and planned as always and the store can only be described as ‘brimming’ with stock. We can really only sit back and wait for the sales to roll in but as always we are nervous about stock.

I have read that 5% of Christmas sales have already occurred, a statistic I would agree with and perhaps say was conservative in our store. Our biggest challenge is when do we stop ordering and say enough is enough?  At this point you realise that all the Christmas planning in the world will not give that magical answer - who thought being a retailer was easy?

I guess it comes down to us in the end and, as individual buyers for our stores, how risk adverse we feel. Me and my team will probably just keep pushing for that little bit more and keep topping up the store, hoping that the two-hour wait to get into the local Tesco car park will be a big enough deterrent.

The bigger issue for me is Christmas profitability. Selling lots of £5 chocolate tins and promotions is great for turnover but December’s bottom line is always tough to manage and with literally hundreds of offers across all categories that will only get harder. I think 2013 will be harder still, but as independents we can react quickly, and spot and take advantage of opportunities easier than some of our bigger competitors - we have to play to our strengths more so than ever!  

I genuinely hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas and a happy trading period and as difficult as it is in our sector, all get to spend some quality time with friends and family.  

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