Scott Preston: Island life

It’s all a gamble

Posted by: Scott Preston Thu, 21 Aug 2014

We’ve recently had our new National Lottery Scratchcard terminal installed in the shop and in the first three days sales were fantastic, to the extent that we managed to sell out of the £5, £2 and £1 scratchcards before Camelot had even dispatched the new packs! Great news for Camelot and for us - we also paid out £300+ in prizes which does a lot to boost word of mouth in the area.

I got to thinking about the gamble we all take when we take on a shop. Every penny we spend is a bit of a gamble, sometimes it pays off but there will always be that £1,000 spend that boosts your average basket by 1p instead of the expected £1 which is never a nice feeling.

Our shop is possibly the nightmare scenario for an insurer: our walls are asbestos sheets, we have an asbestos roof and we sell fuel, cigs and booze, and now that we have a lottery terminal you can guarantee our premium will shoot up come renewal time. If we added an ATM we would probably get a ‘computer says No’ reaction.

With the exception of a small extension to the store area partly funded by the EU in 2006 (prior to our ownership), the shop has not really changed in the 75+ years it has been here. The floor tiles are now starting to curl upwards, the sub-floor is ruined and the largest chiller we have is about to chill its last.

So, given that the entire shop will need emptying into the store room, the shelving units dismantled and cleaned and the old chiller destroyed in order to remove it from the building before the floor work (lasting about four days) can begin, the question now is: ‘When do we close for a week?’.

Whenever we close we’re going to be losing money, not only through a lack of sales, but also through the expense of the new floor and the payment of staff holidays as well as the new equipment. We’re thinking October just before the School Holidays, traditionally a quietish time for us before the mayhem of Christmas, but trying to get a chiller from the mainland to Shetland relies on couriers, contractors, sellers and fork lift truck drivers all playing ball as well as the hope that Mother Nature is on our side for the 12-hour ferry crossing!

All in all, we’re looking at a £25k investment in the hope that we can continue trading from our current premises. As one shopkeeper said “customers don’t come in for the floor” so it’s certainly a gamble for us, however if anyone has a £1m scratchcard out there that they don’t need we’ll gladly take it off your hands to reduce the risk a little!

Staff resignation

Posted by: Scott Preston Sat, 30 Nov 2013

It’s a strange feeling when you get a member of staff handing you a white envelope containing their resignation.

We’ve had staff leave us at the end of their probation period and we’ve had staff change from part-time to casual but we’ve never experienced a resignation. Until this week.

I’m about 80% sure now the reason for their leaving is not my out-of-control Viking-style beard scaring them, but rather that they have found a good job close to home that is full-time rather than part-time as in our shop. At first it was a bit of a shock, I’m not really sure how else to describe it. I started to question the good and bad of working for us. We probably don’t provide the best tea and coffee in the staff room but we do try and look after our employees. We give staff discounts and other benefits as well as a few bonuses here and there. Not to mention they also get the benefit of my terrible sense of humour!

After the shock came a bit of acceptance. There is little we could really do other than wish the member of staff the best of luck in their new role and get on with processing the P45 and other bits of leavers paperwork.

Finally came a bit of reality. The Christmas Rota. Oh dear.

In my youth (yes, I realise the irony of a 27-year-old saying that when some people reading this will be twice as old as that and have been in retail a lot longer than me) when I worked in a local c-store I was always given a rota two weeks before Christmas and told “those are your shifts” but that (in my book) isn’t fair as people may have plans and the ogre-like managers at the time had little sympathy for the 15/16 year old who wanted to go an indulge in a few house parties!

So we try and be fair to our staff, we put out a ‘first draft’ Christmas Rota in mid-November and give everyone around 10 - 14 days to get back to us with any issues/days they can’t work, times family are visiting etc and we also try and make sure people work on different days to the normal rota. Everyone including me and the missus gets an early start and a late finish.

Then we adjust the rota based on the feedback and put out ‘version 2.0’ for review warning everyone that the next edition is the final draft and is then locked and with the sole exception of an exploded belly due to over consumption of turkey (for which we require proof) we don’t accept any excuses for needing to swap shifts, finish early and so on.

This year we’ve had to release version 3.0 and arrange cover for the shifts the staff member who is leaving would have had. On top we’re having to deal with the recruitment side of things. It is unlikely we’ll have someone in place before the new year and someone who is trained and ready to work before the mayhem begins.

I don’t resent the member of staff getting a new job (in fact I think it is fantastic) but sometimes I wish you could pause time and deal with all the stuff that needs doing before carrying on into continuing mayhem.  

So, if you’re reading this and you’ve seen the time/space continuum remote control E4712 please can you return it to me in Shetland? Thanks muchly.

Glass half full

Posted by: Scott Preston Fri, 8 Nov 2013

“Seriously though, is all this another nail in the coffin for the independent retailer?”

The above comment appeared in a recent edition of C-Store and had me thinking. Not just because we hear the phrase so often that it has begun to lose impact, but also because I’m a former funeral director and can assure you few nails are actually used. (Screws are better for holding the lids down – in case you were wondering).

The life of a convenience retailer is never an easy one, there’s always projects here and there that require your attention and staffing and supplier issues etc. Today my milk delivery was short and as I stood in the middle of the road frantically waving like some sort of possessed lunatic in force seven winds, I began to consider just how amusing it must have been for the local folk looking out of their windows to see this heavily overweight blob with a delivery note in one hand, an order form in the other, flapping up and down as if trying to direct the milk float like a jumbo jet towards the gate.

Sadly the milk man did not see me and the end result was a phone call to the dairy who contacted him on his mobile. “It was just a test,” he assured me when he returned. Testing shopkeepers is not a wise thing to do, after all we control the chocolate and crisp supplies! 

Given the recent events with cigarette companies refusing to assist with display units, Jac Roper’s advice on scammers having us by the ‘short and curlies’, the increase in business rates and other such delights, I’m surprised most of us aren’t just skipping the coffin and throwing ourselves into the nearest cremator!

Is it all doom and gloom? No, of course it isn’t. It’s always easy to see the negative but a lot more difficult to see the positive. My staff saw the positive recently as we held some wine tasting training. Two evenings of trying wines out and learning how to taste a wine in the way you see on television led to some people seeing multiple positives, as well as a marked increase in sales of OTC Painkillers the following mornings. 

I think the industry is a great place to work and interacting on Twitter and Facebook with other retailers is a great source of support, as well as idea sharing. As the darker nights have now begun up here in Shetland the light fades around 4pm and its dark by 5.30pm (which will get earlier and earlier throughout November and December) I can’t help but think about the many nights I spent in cold mortuaries with very few people to talk to, which is in contrast to now where visitors are frequent and a lot more animated (well, most of them), which is all the fun of retail.

Smiles go a long way in retail, especially in the darker winter nights, so all these nightmarish things we keep hearing about are not another nail in the coffin, they’re another reason to pour that extra glass of wine on a Friday night even though you have to be up by 6 the next morning! Customers love to see a smile, so if you’ve started considering the cremator option, try getting out of the office for half an hour and speaking with real people. Push your favourite product and see if the bottom line at the end of the day brings a smile rather than a desire to speed up the Inheritance Tax Bill for your family.

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