Tara's Londis reopens

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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.

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