A battalion of posters stands to attention in regimented rows along the ceiling of the new Bargain Booze Select Convenience store at Westacre Services in Salisbury, Wiltshire. Everywhere you look there's a new deal even pricemarked packs are discounted.

"In the off licence alone there are 250 deals every six-week promotional period," says store owner Mark Callaway, who bought the shop in March. While he concedes that the sheer bulk of pos material necessary to flag up all these deals can be a little over-whelming initially, it generally works to the store's advantage.

"The perception is that because there are so many deals, customers feel they are getting a good buy even when a product isn't on offer. We're always looking at new ways to pull people in, be it promotions, parking spaces, or our free ATM."

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Westacre Services, Salisbury, Wiltshire Opening hours: 5am midnight daily Size: 2,000sq ft Staff: 12 Additional services: food to go, coffee to go, free ATM, lottery
Mark claims that the ATM is especially good at attracting shoppers from the local housing estate as they tend to withdraw money daily. He also ensures that once they've got their money, there's plenty for them to spend it on. "We make sure we cater for all pockets. The £1 Jaffa Cakes we have on offer at the moment are big business. Tinned veg is another popular purchase with that demographic, and in frozen most meals are in pricemarked packs because that's what appeals to cost-conscious consumers."

Of course, the housing estate inhabitants aren't Mark's only customers. The forecourt-based shop is on the main road into town, so it has an eclectic clientele and Mark has tailored his range to ensure that everyone's needs are catered for. This is particularly evident in the alcohol section, which has been vastly expanded under its new administration. Under the store's previous Spar banner alcohol was tucked away in the corner, whereas now it takes up half the shop and makes up a third of the store's turnover. "It doesn't matter whether you're a middle-aged woman buying a wine for a dinner party, an elderly gentleman looking for a tot of whisky, or a young guy having his mates round for a few beers whatever you need, you can get it here," says Mark.

The off licence has all the usual suspects, from Smirnoff to Stella, as well as a number of speciality beers and a heady selection of reserves for the wine buffs. Much of the range is stored in chillers. "There's nothing worse than buying a bottle of warm wine or beer to take to someone's house, so we make sure everything is available from the fridge."

Providing chilled RTDs turned out to be particularly profitable for the store. "We used to sell only ambient RTDs, but the younger women like to have a few ready-mixed drinks before they go out clubbing, so they requested that we sell them chilled," Mark explains. "We did as they asked and sales doubled."

Smart tactics

While the excellent alcohol range is obviously a major asset to the store, Mark is well aware that it also means underage sales attempts and theft are a constant threat. Hence, he has made his intentions clear to the local authorities from the word go. "The name Bargain Booze is emotive, so when we first opened the police were very interested in how we were going to deal with children trying to buy alcohol," says Mark. "But we have a very strict Challenge 25 policy, so they were satisfied."

The issue of underage sales was also taken into account when designing the store's layout. Mark has taken the somewhat unusual decision to split the store in two: on the right-hand side as you enter is alcohol, and on the left is convenience. "This means no one under 18 needs to be on the right-hand side of the store. It makes it easier for staff to control things."

Another measure factored into the store's design to ensure that underage customers can be kept under surveillance is the shelf height. "We've installed wide aisles and very low gondolas so you have good visibility across the store. This acts as an additional deterrent for youngsters trying to buy alcohol, and also for shoplifters," says Mark.

"Another benefit is that, subconsciously, people enjoy the shopping experience more because they don't feel closed in."

The store's layout isn't typical of Bargain Booze stores, and Mark claims that the group is open to new ideas. "I meet up with Bargain Booze every six weeks. The sales director and the managing director are there, so you can pin them down and tell them your thoughts."

But he states that the success of the store isn't solely down to the group's support. "Bargain Booze gives you the tools to run your business, but it's up to you how you use them. For example, when we change promotions we make sure that all the pos is switched over on the same day for maximum impact, whereas other people I've seen put it off until the weekend, or do it over a few days."

Mark also takes the trouble to balance his branded offering with a few locally supplied products. "We stock Ginsters sandwiches and pasties everyone knows they taste good and people want stuff that they recognise but we also sell sandwiches and salads from the Salisbury Sandwich and Catering Company. They're much more homely products, stuffed to the brim with ingredients, and they're a bit more unusual you wouldn't get Ginsters making a ham, brie and Dijon mustard sandwich!"

And he's not just dealing with local producers to be Mr Nice Guy the bottom line is if it doesn't sell, it's not staying. "We took in 20 Salisbury Sandwich salads yesterday and there are six left now they're great sellers!" he grins.

In fact, Mark keeps an extremely close eye on his figures. "With Ginsters I work out the cash margins within two decimal places of a penny." It might sound finicky, but he claims that many c-stores fall down over their failure to observe cash margins. "It's important not to focus too much on profit margins and neglect your cash margins. Many people become fixated with percentages and overlook the actual money involved."

His years spent in the retail sector have given Mark plenty of time to hone his business acumen. Back in the 1990s he built a chain of 18 stores called JCR News, which he sold to Smile Stores in 2002, joining the group as commercial director.

Following the sale of Smile to Martin McColl in 2007, Mark bought a store at Bristol Airport, and another forecourt in Crewe, which he continues to run alongside the Bargain Booze outlet.

But he wasn't always such a high-flyer Mark has had more than his fair share of less glamorous jobs. "I've never been afraid to get my hands dirty," he says. "In the past I've worked as a grave digger, builder and fence painter. I was brought up to earn my own money and even now I never borrow anything."

With the Bargain Booze store turning over a respectable £36,000 an increase of £13,000 since he bought the store it doesn't look like he'll be needing a loan any time soon. "Retailing is a hard business to be in," says Mark, "but I love it."

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