Steve had been keen for some time to add to the two Londis convenience stores he runs in Weymouth, Dorset, but all the premises he had looked at were either too small or quickly snapped up. So when a homewares store in the centre of town closed down, Steve made his move.
"It was a great opportunity, one that I couldn't pass up," he says. "It was a chance to acquire a large, central premises at a reasonable price and design it the way I wanted."
And the downturn worked to his advantage. "As this was a distressed business, I got it for a very reasonable price," he says. "The market can be used to your advantage if you keep your eyes open and watch out for opportunities. When I told another retailer about the great price I got the store for, he said he spent his entire journey home looking out for closed or closing businesses! In fact, he said he was considering buying a former car showroom premises with 6,000sq ft of floor space, but thought that might be pushing it too far!"
Once the mountain of paperwork was completed and the deal done, Steve set about getting the store ready for trading. "We did a massive refit, which took a couple of weeks," he explains. "It wasn't a convenience store before and that helped, as it meant we didn't lose any trade while we did the work."
The store was ready to open for the August bank holiday weekend, but Steve wanted to wait to make sure the opening achieved maximum impact with those he hoped would be his regular customers. He says: "I was very tempted to open on the weekend as it was very busy and all of the stock was ready, but it made sense to wait as most of the residents usually go away for the weekend and they're the people I wanted to target. If we had opened on Sunday or bank holiday Monday and there was a problem, it wouldn't have got sorted out until Tuesday, which could have been awkward."
The eventual opening went without a hitch and the store is doing a roaring trade. Steve believes it can only get better, too. "We're currently averaging about £20,000 turnover a week and this is the quieter period of the year," he says. "I'll be disappointed if I don't take in at least double that at the height of the summer."
Steve adds that summer will also bring changes to what he stocks. "Right now I've tailored my stock for the off-peak season," he says. "I have a small range of tourist items, but when the summer comes I'll see how popular they are and expand to suit. It'll be a year before I'll be able to work out the trade in the store and what customers want."
Although Steve is a veteran of the convenience store industry, opening a new store did throw up some surprises. "This was a different area for me as my other stores are a neighbourhood store and a tourist shop along the seafront," he says. "It's been interesting to see the difference in how customers shop in the different stores and how quickly we've built up a regular trade at the new place. Between 7am and 9.30am turnover is almost exactly the same every day as people go to work, and it's the same in the evenings as people come home from work. In between those times, it's tough to predict how busy it will be," he adds.
"In my neighbourhood store there's a constant stream with a busy period in the late morning. It really shows the importance of catering for the on-the-go market when it's at its peak."
Steve was also shocked by the type of products that customers were looking for in the new store. "The grocery spend was well above what I had expected," says Steve. "In the first few weeks I had to tweak the range to meet demand. Fruit and veg has been a lot more successful than I thought it would be. When we first opened I kept it simple with just some apples and oranges, but so many customers started asking for different products that I had to double the amount of space allocated."
Not one for waste, Steve has made sure he utilises every inch of the 2,200sq ft store. "We've moved a lot of items around to get the most from the space available," he says. "Because we have very little storage space, I had to get special fridges that are larger and deeper than usual so we could get more stock out for the customers. Almost every item delivered goes onto the shelves straight away."
Steve's new store can also claim a unique title within the convenience sector. "I have the longest Londis fascia in the country at 150ft!" he says. "The retailer who previously had the record wasn't best pleased when I told him that ours was bigger, but it's all part of a friendly business rivalry." Let's hope business at the new store also grows to record-breaking levels.