Raaj Chandarana: Our store

Tara's Londis reopens

Posted by: Raaj Chandarana Tue, 14 Nov 2017

I’m very pleased to say we’ve relaunched our store as Tara’s Londis in High Wycombe.

The key difference with the old layout is space - we’ve essentially created a more open store with greater space for customers. HIM says a good shopping environment is a very important driver, and mums are a key target customer for us, so we needed to make it easier to move the prams about in store.

It’s a visual effect as much as anything, as we haven’t changed the size of the sales area at all and remain at 650 square feet. We did move the ATM one metre over (it took us 18 months to get this agreed!) and that has created the impression of more space in the entrance area of the store. We also replaced the Post Office fortress position at the rear with a new 3m freezer - arguably a category in decline but in our area I think there’s potential for growth. So we now have a PO Local counter - we are open seven days a week so let’s make the most of it. All staff now wear uniforms, which is all part of creating more theatre in-store.

Originally we were going to spend six figures on an extension but with the market in an unparalleled state of flux, consumer spending down because of Brexit, decline in the pound and so forth - and shops everywhere being generally quiet - we had to look at it as a commercial decision and ask ourselves whether we would get a return on an investment of that size.

Instead we spent a more modest £20k, but that has still enabled us to make some key changes. We now have tobacco under the counter and a one-metre vaping gantry and have taken on more spirits with a view towards Christmas - gins in particular have been going well.

We were previously Premier and are now Londis. In my opinion there is no one group that is inherently better than another, they are just different and to some extent demographic-dependent. For us, we felt that Londis was the best fit with the sort of local demographic that we are aiming to appeal to. Part of our rebranding from Tara’s News to Tara’s Londis involved selling our home news delivery service. Letting go of a key part of who we are was a risky but purely commercial decision.

Although it is still Booker, there are changes that come with switching groups. The promotional activity is familiar territory, but the ordering is different and so is the delivery schedule, so we are learning how to get the right resource allocated to delivery times after struggling a bit initially. In aiming to attract new customers whilst still servicing our loyalists we have taken risks on many industry trends such as craft beers, health and protein. We’re learning that new ideas take time to be welcomed by shoppers and hope our patience will pay dividends.

We wanted our store relaunch to be one of the best openings for a small store ever, and I’d like to think we achieved something like that. We had some really high value prizes and giveaways, including an Apple Watch, which is the item that everybody wants for Christmas and not even Tesco gives one of those away.

To win a prize our customers had to earn-in. We launched new Instagram and Twitter accounts to coincide with the relaunch of the store, and gave a raffle ticket to anyone who took a selfie at the store and posted it with the hashtag #Happy20thTeamTaras. If they tagged three people in as well, then they got three raffle tickets, and it worked a treat, as we already have hundreds of social media followers. Instagram is going to be particularly important I think, as it is widely used by the Millennial.

Achieving something special is easy, keeping it special is where the graft comes in. I’m grateful to all the suppliers that contributed to the success of the day - too many to mention them all by name. It was a win-win for us, the customers and the suppliers too. Local activity is a cost-effective way to get their brand names and products out to the public, and I’m pleased we have seen an uplift in sales for all the brands we promoted at the opening.

Overall, turnover has been creeping up since the relaunch, so it shows that you can achieve growth if you do something well.

Up in hundreds mind, not thousands, which makes me think we’ve made a smart move in keeping the expenditure low. To some extent this is a test store: testing the ideas about convenience trading, testing our knowledge of industry trends and how our particular customers respond, testing a new symbol group and the suppliers we partner with. We’re even testing outsourcing our home delivery to Deliveroo.

Depending on the results, we could yet make the decision to extend the store as well as possibly acquiring another one, but it will always have to be a commercial decision. Profitability and return on investment are always going to be the key measures but for now let’s see what the festive period and the new year holds. You can follow our progress @taraslondis.

Full speed ahead

Posted by: Raaj Chandarana Tue, 21 Feb 2017

It’s been slower progress than I had hoped for on our journey to extend our store, Tara’s News, but we have made an important breakthrough and it should be full speed ahead now.

The primary reason for the hold-up was our ATM, which needs to relocate for the refit, but I was told it would cost £11,000 to move it! As we are moving to the Post Office Local format as part of the expansion, I was hoping that the PO would help fund this, but I didn’t get an instant response. It took a bit of time and there was some muscle-flexing involved, but now common sense has prevailed and we can get under way with the work.

So with that resolved, we are looking to get an amendment to the planning permission processed and then get Jordons in for the refit and relaunch, hopefully by June. We had a couple of options we were toying with, including a double-store extension, but planning permission for that would take at least another six months so we have decided to develop a model which would see our 622sq ft shop extended to 800 by incorporating the former post office and stockroom, and then setting up a shipping container at the back to act as the warehouse.

You have to look at all the options that will future-proof your business, and everything from parcel collection to food to go requires more space. There is no doubt that food to go is the future and It was tempting to rip half the shop out and get rid of some legacy categories altogether, but we decided that we should start off trading as a proper c-store because we haven’t really given that a proper go up to now. So we’ll start off with a smaller hot food offer and some fantastic bean-to-cup coffee for £1 and, if it does well, we can always expand again.

We have agreed to adopt Londis as our new fascia, but for the time being we are continuing to trade as Premier, and both teams have been super-helpful. There is a lot of opportunity for the future and those who are able to capitalise on 
this will be those who will be successful, and 
I for one am genuinely excited about the opportunities that the merger between Booker and Tesco will bring.

New fascia chosen

Posted by: Raaj Chandarana Wed, 16 Nov 2016

Tara’s News has had an exciting journey. It started 18 years ago with my parents as an independent newsagent, having a stint with Mace, before joining Premier and steadily establishing itself as the focal point of our local community.

After I’ve come in and had an exhausting three years learning the ins and outs of the industry, I’m thrilled to announce the next step of our journey will be taking place with Londis as our new fascia. I want my customers to benefit from a greater fresh and chilled offering, but still have access to their favourite Happy Shopper and Euro Shopper brands – one of the benefits now that they’re backed by Booker. This is a positive step in the right direction; my decision to be patient and do my homework has paid off and I’m excited to see what the future holds with a new, yet very familiar, partner. I’d like to thank Premier for providing us with a solid service over the years and would thoroughly recommend any retailer thinking of joining to make the call and get involved.

Londis understands my challenge: to create a simple yet functional, modern and mission-led c-store within a newly-extended 800sq ft footprint. I want to take customers on a journey away from seeing us as a corner shop and encourage them to fill their baskets with healthier products. I believe it’s now become a retailer’s duty to offer them that choice regardless of your store’s location or demographics, rather than just a trend for the cities or more affluent areas.

We recently lost half of our car park to redevelopment and realise how much we took it for granted. Increased competition and a decline in traditional categories such as news and tobacco means recent months haven’t been pretty. Coffee and food to go will hopefully change that.

Given how advanced the UK’s coffee culture is, I’ve been frustrated at the lack of options out there for retailers with limited space. So I’m pleased to be working with a well-known international brand to introduce a new, quality coffee solution at a value price that will shake things up. It should be arriving to test over Christmas before we extend and refit in the new year. I look forward to telling you about how it has been received by customers.

Getting the basics right

Posted by: Raaj Chandarana Wed, 28 Sep 2016

It’s easy to throw money at improving the cosmetics of a business. A pretty business is a thriving business, right?

Of course not! Your team are the most important investment, to ensure they do what the business requires of them, and the true brains of a store is the technology in use, not the retailer. These have been two points that I’ve been working on the most.

Six weeks ago I took my staff of 10 out of the store for some team-building exercises, which involved building tall towers out of everyday items. A common theme fed back to me was the importance of creating a strong foundation if you wanted to achieve the tallest tower, and not rushing to build the tallest or prettiest tower, or indeed the quickest. That evening I shared my vision on our extension, heard their ideas and made sure we were all beating the sound of the same drum.

Sometimes you need external reinforcements to plug any knowledge gaps. I’ve brought on board Rishi Madhani, an ex-retailer from the Today’s Group, to help me project manage our extension and refit.
The most frustrating decision we’ve made so far is to postpone the refit of Tara’s News to early 2017 as we’ve decided we are cutting it just too fine with the all-important Christmas trading period looming. Believe me, that was a bitter pill to swallow! In the meantime, we will get the new shell built and overhaul our retailing processes by Christmas.

At the core of these processes is our new epos partner, ITS. We will implement their simple yet powerful technology at the end of the month to help us understand our store in greater detail. Our team will learn how to use the system the way it should be used – something many of us (myself included) don’t do currently. After all, without real data you’re just another person with an opinion.

We will then be ready for everything the new Tara’s News will throw at us.

Some tough decisions have been made and 
it’s just only the beginning. Rome may not have been built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour.

On a mission

Posted by: Raaj Chandarana Thu, 28 Jul 2016

The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. However, as a convenience retailer, we want to be all things for all people - it’s in our nature. And that is especially true when it’s the first time you’re doing it!

We are extending our store, and our mission is to create something that I, my team and our customers are all super-proud of.

The journey has thrown up multiple questions already, reflecting the challenges of our ever-fluid industry. Is it worth extending to the rear, side, or even both? Should we put a small kitchen at the back and make our own in-house food to go offering? If so, how? How do we get out of our ATM contract? Where should the post office counter be located in order to prevent a clash of queues? Is it worth exploring other symbol groups? Do I need a new epos provider? And how on earth do I put measures in place to create a work/life balance?

It’s important to break things down into digestible chunks, tackling each separately and celebrating the wins. It took a long time finalising what our new store’s physical footprint would be and I’m grateful for the lessons I learnt along the way. Finalising store layout has proven to be tougher than anticipated as we plan to incorporate mission-based shopping, but space is a luxury we simply don’t have.

We’re now choosing lighting, flooring, chillers, shelving and the like. We’re also collaborating with suppliers who have shown an interest in creating something simple yet special. I want my store to be a positive place to work and shop, but being functional is the priority over bells and whistles.

One minute I am buzzing with excitement, and the next I am petrified by the task at hand. Coping mechanisms and a support network have been critical, and fellow retailers have proven to be the most credible source of knowledge. As expected, the banter between us is plentiful.

I look forward to sharing this journey with you in my bi-monthly column, watch this space and follow it on Twitter at @raaj_c. Please feel free to pop in if you’re going past junction 4 on the M40, you’re always welcome.

Rome may not have been built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour.

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