“Back then almost 98% of our stock was frozen,” recalls Mike. “Shoppers used to come in and buy a whole lamb which we would cut up and package for them. The entire animal cost about £20 back then, and it would last people for ages.”
However, as the years marched on frozen food’s cheap and cheerful image fell out of favour with the new generation of consumers who wanted fresh, exciting products to eat on the go. So in 1986 the Boyce family decided to introduce a small deli counter at the back of the store. They were blown away by the results.
“The deli section was an overnight success so bit by bit we decided to introduce more chilled and ambient groceries,” says Mike.
The store became a Nisa member in 1990, but it wasn’t until April of this year that Mike decided the time was right to really get into fresh.
“I was looking at the paperwork one night when I realised that less than 50% of our money was actually being made on frozen food. We were making a larger amount on groceries, but weren’t putting nearly enough weight behind them. It became clear then that a radical change in the way we did business was needed, and that now was the time to act.” And so the re-brand began.Three months and more than £150,000 later and the store has been radically transformed into a stylish one-stop shop with a grocery offer to melt even the iciest of hearts.
The name, Daisy Freezer Centre, has been changed to Daisy Fresh and Essential to highlight its new fresh and convenient grocery offer.
Gone are the promotional banners, tired vinyl floor, high ceilings and army of freezers. Instead, a new dark wood floor gives the store an upmarket feel, while sampling tables piled high with olives, sauces and various other gastronomic delights create the ambience of an indoor farmers’ market.
The store used to have large floor-to-ceiling windows, but these have now been blacked out to make way for shelves which house a colourful array of fresh fruit, vegetables and chilled produce. A large ambient section has also been introduced and the number of freezers reduced from 52 to 32.
“The change has been dramatic,” says Mike, “but then the changes in the market and what shoppers want have been dramatic, too. “Bulk shopping isn’t what it used to be and people are much more experimental with what they buy now. You have to embrace that.”
The remaining low-rise chest freezers have all been cleverly located in the centre of the store, creating a feeling of light and space and allowing the shopper’s eye to sweep across the room. Frozen food is still key, but shoppers looking to buy additive-jammed turkey twizzlers will be disappointed. Only high-quality frozen products from a range of big name brands and small local producers are sold here. Many of the products are handmade at the store and Mike says that his barbecue kebabs are a huge hit with shoppers.
The store wasn’t the only thing to get an image shake-up; staff were also given a new look. Out went the long white coats and in came a new uniform of burgundy shirts, black aprons and straw hats. Mike and his team, which includes his 20-year-old son Jason, also received additional training to work behind the new deli and fresh meat counters.
“We have worked very closely with our local environmental health office throughout the process,” adds Mike. “It’s a good idea to talk to them regularly, get their advice on things and build up a good relationship.”
Mike’s team is made up of 24 full-time staff and 20 younger part-timers who work about 10 hours a week after college or at weekends.
“They get so many compliments from customers, which is really nice to hear, especially at the moment when there is so much negative press about teenagers,” adds Mike.
And his team had to work harder then ever during the refit. “We kept on trading throughout, just shutting off various sections as we went along. It was a bit of a nightmare at times with all the banging and hammering, but we got through!”
Mike made sure that customers were kept informed about the process, and by all accounts they are thrilled with the results.
“We now have a five-star store with a truly unique offer and customers have been amazed by the changes in appearance and range,” he says.
The store sells a wide range of unusual products alongside the staple grocery items and frozen food. One of these is Snoggable Garlic, a special garlic made by a local producer which contains all the properties of fresh garlic but without the after-smell.
“I try to sell as wide a range of local products as I can as this is what shoppers want now,” says Mike.He’s not relying on word of mouth alone to spread the news about his new store. Instead he’s planning a huge mailshot to nearby homes and businesses in the next few weeks.
“This is a very densely populated area – there are about 60,000 homes within five miles of the store and we are planning on targeting most of them. This store has so much potential to grow sales, we just need to tap into it.”
It is located on the main road into Wolverhampton and has its own 65-space car park.
A large Lidl store is set to open a few doors away in the next few weeks, but Mike’s not worried about the extra competition.
He believes that Lidl could actually bring new shoppers into the area, and that their very different offers could actually complement each other.
So what is Mike’s biggest opponent? Easy - rising energy prices. With 35 freezers to run, Mike’s energy bill is quite simply electrifying. “Electricity bills are huge and estimates of how much further they are expected to rise is terrifying.”
Although Mike does have reasons to be optimistic – the more energy-efficient freezers and chillers introduced during the refit should help to limit the damage. “We are also going to have to take more care not to waste electricity, by turning lights off. The extra trade that we are already getting since the refit will help, and sales of fruit and vegetables alone have trebled in the past month. All we can do is try to drive sales and get more customers in and that’s what we’re working on.”
Mike’s also planning on expanding his range further and is considering a tobacco offer, something which he has never had before. “I had been reluctant to sell tobacco before because of all the problems that seem to go along with the category. However, you can’t deny that it’s a footfall driver.
“I’m not worried by all this talk of display bans because I don’t think it will have an impact on sales at all. Smokers won’t stop buying cigarettes just because they can’t see them behind the counter. It will be the same rule for all retailers so we’ll all be on a level footing.”
Another change that Mike would like to implement is a move from seven- to six-days-a-week trading, and he wishes the whole industry would feel the same.
“A move to six-days-a-week trading would be good for the industry. It would give independent retailers more time to sit back and take stock,” he says.
It would also give Mike more time to spend doing what he loves the most: motor racing.
He’s a massive fan of the high-octane sport which has clearly influenced the energetic way he drives his business. He says: “We’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m so excited for the future. The store has bucket loads of potential and I can’t wait to start hitting it.”