“My previous experience really helped with understanding how to display products,” says Vic. “Instead of grouping all the same coloured vegetables together, it makes more of an impact to have different colours side by side.” He picked up this useful tip from his first venture into the retail sector, working at an ethnic store in Wembley back in 1990.
Once his interest in retail had been sparked, Vic spent a few years as fresh and chilled supervisor at Iceland, before deciding to buy his own store in Harrow. “In 1995 I bought my first shop – a newsagents and off licence. When we took over it had a weekly turnover of £9,000; now it’s £35,000.”
Having had his first taste of success, Vic wanted to give himself a tougher challenge. “A few years ago, work was getting very monotonous and we were looking to expand into c-stores. Then an opportunity came up with Musgrave in 2005,” he says. Vic was after a store located outside the M25 to avoid any London competition, and not too far from his home in Uxbridge. “When we came across the Chorleywood store, it was a very tired old place – the infrastructure was antique – but we loved it. I had a gut feeling,” he says.
He took the store over in September 2005. “It was a huge challenge for us – very daunting and scary – to go from a small store to a big one,” he confides. But if anywhere was in need of Vic’s magic touch, it was Chorleywood, which had a turnover of £38,000 a week but was losing £50,000 a year.
He spent his first six weeks watching employees’ behaviour and getting a feel for the place. “When we first opened, nobody said hello to customers or asked if they wanted something,” sighs Vic. “There was also a lot of pilfering.”
He decided to take action. “We started tightening up and bringing in discipline, and half the staff left,” he recalls. “Luckily, we got good replacement staff from other Budgens stores.”
By December 2005 the store was turning over £50,000 a week having sorted out the basics – cleanliness, hygiene, customer service and availability and range. “In Iceland, we used to run out of everything on a Sunday, but Musgrave taught us to keep the shelves full 24/7,” says Vic. “It said you should have enough stock that you would be able to cope if you missed a delivery. This led to a 25-30% rise in Sunday sales.”
Vic also encourages customers to get involved with stocking the store. “When we took over, stock levels were 65,000 items,” he says. “We took it up to 140,000 within a year.” By introducing a suggestion box shoppers are able to put forward ideas for products they would like to see on-shelf.
These seemingly small changes began to make a major difference to the store’s performance and by mid- 2006 Chorleywood had hit a turn-over of about £62,000 a week. But Vic still wasn’t ready to settle and in February this year the store received a £500,000 refit, expanding from 4,000 to 5,500sq ft. “Because we get deliveries six days a week, we didn’t need as much stockroom space as we had previously, so we turned it into shopfloor space,” he explains.
The refit was completed in May. “It normally takes between six and seven weeks, but our elderly customers didn’t want us to close the store, so we kept it running during the refit,” says Vic. “It was a difficult and frustrating time, but everyone is very happy with the result.”
The revamped store now has a deli and hot food section and a coffee and juice area. “The deli was a surprise for people and the feedback is that it’s the talk of the town,” says Vic.
The deli is run by a chef who is in full control of what’s on offer. “He creates taster samples on a daily basis, which is very important in the development of the deli,” says Vic. “I don’t interfere with it much – you need to give people a bit of freedom if they’re going to do well.”
The deli and hot food section make up 2.8% of sales. “It’s complementing the store instead of draining from it,” says Vic. “I was apprehensive when we planned it but, thankfully, it has worked.”
Budgens Chorleywood, Hertfordshire
Size: 5,500sq ft
In-store services: money transfers with Western Union, free deliveries (no minimum spend)
Opening hours: Monday-Saturday 8am-8pm, Sunday 10am-4pm
“Even when I’m not here, the work culture is enshrined in staff – they all know what’s expected of them. If I left the store for a month, I’m confident the standards would remain the same.”
Chorleywood is now reaping the benefits of Vic’s labour. “Last month our turnover hit almost £70,000 a week,” he says. “Our target is £76,000, which we expect to meet within three years.”
Even with 18 years of experience under his belt, Vic still believes that there is plenty to learn. “I communicate a lot with other retailers from Budgens – it’s very beneficial,” he claims. “We have quarterly cluster meetings and get together socially as well. You often pick up good advice from other retailers. For example, someone told me about a cheaper till roll supplier, which has saved us a small fortune!”
He is also a fan of store visits. “I take my managers and supervisors to see other stores,” he says. “Sometimes they have different commodities that we don’t stock that could sell well here, such as locally supplied products. I haven’t visited a store where I didn’t pick up a tip.”
Vic is now busy compiling ideas for his Flackwell Heath store. “It was losing £50,000 annually and in the first year we’ve made profit,” he grins. “Six months down the line, we may do a refit.”
And why stop at three stores? “I’m looking to buy a couple more Budgens outlets,” admits Vic. “We like the strong backing of a symbol group. If you’re an independent, you don’t really have the same support and you’re scared to put money back into the business. In a symbol group, you go through a change and you think big.”