Brinsley Pharmacy & Food Fayre in Nottingham may not look like a convenience store from the outside, but new owner Garming Cheung says there is no need to shout about the food side of things because it is already well established. The shop was serving local villagers for 10 years before the adjoining pharmacy was built a decade ago.
In 2006, the site was taken over by United Co-op when it bought the P Williams Chemist group and the outlet's future was thrown into jeopardy, explains Garming. "The store wasn't really big enough for the group's needs and didn't fit their strategy."
The outlet was earmarked for closure, but unwilling to accept its fate, staff and villagers petitioned vehemently to keep it open. "We took a petition with 700 signatures to the Parish Council. This put real pressure on United Co-op and we won a reprieve," says shop supervisor Susan. But celebrations were cut short when United Co-op merged with The Co-op Group. It emerged that the business would be put up for sale and employees were left in limbo once more.
Having worked in Brinsley Pharmacy as a relief manager a few years before, Garming had taken a shine to the store and pharmacy set-up and in March this year he and his business partner took on ownership of the site.
Given that even seasoned retailers would think twice about taking on a new business in this climate, why would a trained pharmacist dare venture into unknown territory? "It's been a steep learning curve," admits Garming. "But I was really keen to give it a go and I've had lots of help from the staff," he says. "Susan has worked here for 11 years, so thankfully she had experience of which products to order and in what quantities."
He may not have been a retail pro at that stage, but Garming had a clear vision of what was needed to make the shop a success. "The shop has been here for years and nothing had been done with it, so it was in desperate need of a makeover," he says. "Speaking to our shopfitters, we came to the conclusion that a more old-fashioned style would suit our location. We've changed the shelves from metal racking to the traditional wooden type, which makes the store feel much more like a village shop than it did before."
He also shifted the gondolas around to improve the store's layout. "When people walked in before, they were faced with a wall of product, whereas now they are met by three different aisles and it's easier to navigate," says Garming.
Broadening the product range was another core focus. "We introduced fresh fruit and veg straight away when we opened in March," he says. "And we've expanded our bakery section. Now we've got brioche, flapjacks, Eccles cakes I'm keen to buy all sorts of different products and experiment to see what works best."
He was also eager to ensure that the shop sold alcohol, but this was easier said than done. "There's so much paperwork I had to fill in an application form seven times to go to each of the different authorities," sighs Garming. "It took six weeks to get clearance, but it was worth it as the store has definitely benefited."
As well as improving the store's offerings, Garming recognised the importance of marrying the pharmacy and food businesses for a more unified approach. "The former owners weren't really utilising the space," he says. "We've introduced a cosmetics offering in keeping with the pharmacy and extended the range of toiletries and medicine." In addition, he has promised customers that if they don't receive their prescriptions within 10 minutes, they'll get a £5 voucher to spend in the shop.
Garming's pharmaceutical expertise has also been put to good use on cash and carry trips. "I picked up the need to shop around very quickly," he says. "I go around the cash and carries with a calculator now. I know that 30-40p doesn't sound like much, but it makes a real difference to your bottom line. I think my attitude to cost saving is largely down to my background in pharmaceuticals as there is often a huge difference in medicine prices depending on supplier."
All this shopping around to ensure the lowest prices has eaten into the pharmacist's time. "I'm 10 times busier than I've been in previous roles I'm working a 50- hour week, not including the cash and carry run at the weekend to do top-up shops or the cigarette run," says Garming.
And there's no sign of things slowing down in the near future. "We're looking into joining either Landmark or Nisa, but we need to focus on finishing our refit first. We still need a new shop front and better lighting," says Garming.
There are also plans to extend the store's opening hours. "At the moment the store shuts at 6.30pm, but I'm looking to increase this and maybe open on Sundays as well."
It may sound like everything is work, work, work for Garming, but his efforts certainly aren't going unnoticed. "The atmosphere is totally different here now," beams Susan. "Everyone feels really uplifted."
And the locals are equally thrilled. "We've had lots of positive feedback from customers they love the store's new look," says Garming. "I'm really pleased with the progress so far it's been a great experience."