He certainly didn't want to embark on an ambitious, never mind expensive, store refit. But a refit, he was repeatedly informed by his family, staff, property agents and the good people at Nisa- Today's, was exactly what was needed for his 'Spend and Save' store to sell.
The last time that Syd's store, in South Normanton, near Nottingham, had gone under the knife was 1977, and it was starting to show. The second-hand chiller cabinets, ancient corrugated metal roof and tired shelving were conspiring to give it a downtrodden feel, leaving potential buyers distinctly disenchanted.
After months on the market and barely a sniff of a sale, it was clear that something drastic needed to be done, and after a few more rounds of ear-bashing from interested parties, Syd finally agreed to the all-important refit.
In addition to new equipment, a remodelled checkout area, and a paint job, the refit also involved a serious expansion of the store's chilled and fresh produce and licensed range, to bring it bang up to date with current consumer trends.
And as Syd got involved with the plans, he realised that he didn't want out after all. "I wasn't about to spend all that time and money on the store and just leave it all behind," he says. So Syd decided to put his dreams of retirement on hold, and concentrate on doing up the store his way.
However, it wasn't long before he reached another fork in the road. The store designers were adamant that for the refit to work, Syd also had to invest in a new ceiling to conceal the old corrugated metal roof. But Syd wasn't having any of it. "I thought it was a ridiculous idea and a waste of money, and I told them so," he says.
As a businessman Syd certainly doesn't pull any punches, and his management style is acutely hands on. His product range is another area where Syd likes to have total control. Two or three times a week he leaves the house at 3am to drive 22 miles to market where he personally selects the best fruit and vegetables.
Decades of experience have meant Syd can pride himself on knowing his customers' needs inside out. Residents of the former mining town of South Normanton have rather traditional tastes and this is reflected in what's on the shelves at Syd's store. Forget fancy fillets and lamb shanks; pigs' trotters and tripe are the order of the day round here.
"The exotic, modern stuff just doesn't sell well," Syd says. "If something new and different is on promotion, I'll buy it and test it out, but more often than not it won't sell. This is especially noticeable with soft drinks," he says.
And walking around the remodelled store with Syd it's immediately clear that he really knows his customers, as well as their needs. "The one thing that really worried me when I was thinking about retirement was how much I would miss the people," he says.
Like all great retailers Syd is a real people person, fond of his staff and customers. He's even kind to shoplifters. "I believe that people are basically good," he says. "Stealing is always an awkward thing to deal with whether it's being done by your customers or your staff. The thing that you have to remember is that most of the time there is a reason why people steal."
Raising the roof
Another of Syd’s positive traits is his ability to admit when he is wrong. And after a hard fought battle, Syd finally gave in to the designers’ plans for a new ceiling.
“I was totally convinced that it was a bad idea, and that it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to the store,” he said. “I mean, if your customers are more interested in your ceiling than your product range, you’ve got a problem, right?” Wrong. With its crisp white surface and thoughtfully positioned spotlights the new ceiling has dramatically transformed the look of the store, and it’s a feature thst is commented on by almost everyone who enters.“The refit has been wonderful, but the ceiling – I must admit – has been the icing on the cake,” Syd says.
And the store’s new look has had a big impact on sales. “With its increased product range and fresh feel it now appeals to a much broader customer base,” Syd explains.
“It looked so tired before that a lot of the area’s more affluent shoppers were simply passing us by, but that’s not the case any more.”Sales are up by 48% post-refit, largely driven by the store’s expanded alcohol section which is now 90% chilled.Work has also been carried out on the car park, while the old ‘Spend and Save’ signage has been replaced with an eye-catching Nisa Local fascia. Bright vinyl transfers have also jazzed up the store’s large expanse of windows.“We were closed for eight days and it’s cost me £160,000, but now that it’s complete, I can say that it’s been worth every penny,” he says. “It’s brought excitement and life back into the store and back to me,” he says.
So Syd’s plans for retirement have been put on hold, and it looks like his old motorbike will be waiting a while longer for its repairs.