C-store retailers aim to make customers' lives easier and none more so than Nick Hudson, who has two Hudsons convenience stores in London -
in Bow and Wandsworth - plus a dry-cleaners in Vauxhall.
It was Nick's experience in dry-cleaning that led him to think about how he could expand his c-store services and offer customers something other than groceries. He explains: "We realised that going beyond products to services was a way of not only expanding our business but expanding the relationship with our customers and fitting in much more with their lifestyles."
Those lifestyles are typically of the 'cash rich, time poor' kind. Nick's two c-stores trade within private residential developments, full of affluent people living in apartments. Says Nick: "We started by offering dry-cleaning from the c-stores but soon realised we could do more than that, so we moved into cleaning services such as flat cleaning, carpet cleaning and window cleaning. From there we went on to offer a handyman service.
"Because of our location, we see most of our customers every day so we get to know what they want, and equally important is that they get to know us, which means there is a great level of trust. They let us into their homes. They give us their keys - which is an extraordinary thing in itself - and they say 'please can you clean my carpet, or my flat'. They say they won't be there but when they get home they want their flat to have been cleaned."
on-the-spot service
Nick explains that after a while, other requests started coming in. "Customers said they had a leaking tap, or a broken window pane, and asked us if we could sort it out for them. The problem for householders is that these jobs are worth just £50 or £100 and a lot of professional tradesmen can't be bothered to come out and do them.
"We are on the spot all the time and we can get the jobs done for them. I think a big thing that works in our favour is that customers know where to find us should anything go wrong."
The handyman service has been so successful that Nick now employs a full-time services manager and a team of 12 tradespeople.
For customers, the service works simply. They go into the store and say they've got a problem. Staff then ring the services manager and the services manager gives the customer a call. He goes round to the customer's apartment, gives them a quote (whenever possible, on the spot) and if the customer accepts it, the job is done within a day or two.
under one roof
Says Nick: "We're now offering a complete service for local people. Customers like the fact that they can get everything done in one place and it's all under the banner of 'convenience' - we're just trying to expand the definition a bit."
That expansion is proving profitable: services account for 12% of Hudson's turnover. The highest demand is for plumbing jobs but light building work is popular when people decide to redesign their flats or redecorate.
"It's going at a cracking pace," says Nick, "much better than we thought. Already it's more profitable than a lot of grocery lines, even though we have had to invest in people and equipment. We hope that once the services business is fully developed, the handyman side will be more profitable than the grocery side of the business."

One to watch


Original Video is introducing an automated DVD and game rental machine into the UK. The maker of the OVCOM2 says that the machine comes equipped with everything needed to run a DVD store "in less than two square metres". Stock control is managed through an intelligent software package that tracks and reports inventory, rental statistics and trends. The machine has a capacity for 1,500 DVDs with rental at 99p if the DVD is returned within six hours.

Tip top


Coinstar is targeting the convenience store market with its mobile phone top-up kiosk.
The kiosk is operated by the customer, reducing waiting time at the till. The unit can be sited anywhere within a store and lets shoppers buy mobile phone top-ups or long-distance calling cards. The units and installation are free and commission can be paid straight into the store's bank account. The company says that the unit can also reduce pilfering as some retailers find that staff take top-up cards to use themselves.
Coinstar has previously focused on large retail, leisure, transport and education environments
for placing the kiosks but says
it sees c-stores as a natural fit with the product.

The right connections


Mobile phone company Mobile Connections is targeting c-store retailers to become agents selling phones and contracts. According to franchise manager Jeremy Stringer, established c-stores do particularly well selling phones - one store last month sold 278 contracts. The company offers three options: the bronze service at £99 offers a control panel set-up through which retailers can place orders and have direct access to an account manager; the silver service costs £199 and includes a free static web page designed and maintained by the company; and the gold service costs £499 and includes a fully interactive e-commerce site.
Retailers receive £30 per connection and Stringer says deals are strong on the three networks offered: T Mobile, Orange and Three. "For a lot of stores, paying out £99 is peanuts when you'll get that back on three phones,"
says Stringer.

Picture this


Fujifilm has launched a new standalone kiosk which it describes as the 'ultimate kiosk'. The Digital Photo Zone can print instantly via an ASK 1500 thermal printer, or can be linked to a Fujifilm Frontier mini lab
or a remote offsite central mini lab. The machine includes an updated Digital Photo Centre which includes a 15in flat-screen monitor and SmartPix technology, which offer printing in as few as four screen touches. Payment can be made by Chip and PIN.

Worth a punt


PayPoint and Littlewoods Gaming have joined forces in a deal which will mean that PayPoint retailers will be able to accept the Littlewoods Poolscard for collecting regular Littlewoods Football Pools and Littlewoods Lotto weekly stakes.
Of the 550,000 regular players of the Littlewoods Pools, about 300,000 use Poolscard, whereby customers pre-register numbers. Customers will now be able to place their stakes at any PayPoint outlet by way of a swipe-card payment. Selected PayPoint agents will also be able to sell a range of Littlewoods Lucky Dip slips.
PayPoint also recently announced that it is to become the sole provider of over-the-counter TV Licensing payments from the end of July.

Smart move


Alphyra has launched Smart
Transfer, an international money transfer, on its Payzone network.
The service lets customers transfer money using Payzone terminals and retailers earn a commission on each transaction - for example, a transfer of £350 will net the retailer £3.24. They also get a cash bonus for each customer that signs up and uses the service.
Customers sign up online and are sent a Smart Transfer loading card and Visa card by post. The Visa card is then sent by the customer to the recipient. Money can be transferred to the Visa card via the Payzone outlet.

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