Patrick Moon has the type of c-store that most retailers can only dream about. 

Smart spotlights highlight produce without being so bright as to create a sterile atmosphere, and the charcoal grey tiled floor is spotless. This is just as well as there is plenty of it on show at the spacious store where super-wide aisles grant not only wheelchair access, but also allow customers to linger a little longer without worrying that they are in the way.

But while the store is calmer than a Buddhist on a spa retreat, the journey Patrick has been on to achieve such harmony was rather less tranquil. Rewind 25 years and Patrick was working in a large catering firm with 52 people under him. "I was dealing with one of the biggest contracts in the UK," he says. "I was at the top of my game, but it was time for a change, so I left my job and went into business with my civil partner Tim."

At first, the couple had their sights set on the pub trade. They bought a rundown pub in Shrewsbury and gave it their best shot for three years, but it was hard going and Patrick needed a change. "It was really hands-on from 8am til midnight seven days a week, with me as the main chef," he says. "I was getting burnt out, so we came out of it and decided to try something new." 

First steps

A friend ran a convenience store in Leicestershire and encouraged them to get involved. "The Spar distribution network was only four miles from where I lived, so I rang up and spoke to Elwyn Davies, who was retail sales director back then," says Patrick. Davies encouraged him to join the group and in 1990 Patrick and Tim took over their first licensed store with AF Blakemore.

Three years later the Hackenthorpe store came up for sale. "It was an old low-cost shop and Blakemore bought it and asked us to take it on as well as the other," explains Patrick. "We had no money so we got a stock loan from Blakemore and ran the store on licence until we had saved up enough."

They then sold their first store in order to focus more closely on the Hackenthorpe site. This site originally comprised three units, but when the neighbouring unit in the parade in which it was based became vacant, the couple decided to buy it for extra storage. 

Court battle

They also applied for an off-licence to draw in more customers, but ended up with a fight on their hands when the Threshers store next door objected. The case went to court, where a David and Goliath-type battle took place. "We had our local solicitor, while Threshers had their own barrister," says Patrick. "After four hours in court we won the right to have an off-licence."

Sales received a further boost when the Threshers store next door eventually closed. "It wasn't as a direct result of us about five Thresher stores in Sheffield were closed at the same time but it certainly didn't do our business any harm. Then the lease came up for the empty unit and we thought if we didn't buy it then someone else would, so we snapped it up and grew the store to five units."

But linking the existing store to the two additional units was no mean feat. "Because there were multiple landlords involved and the solicitors took so long to reply to our letters, it took two years to get the lease sorted," sighs Patrick. "In the meantime, we had plans drawn up as to what we might do with the new space. The legal process gave us plenty of time to come up with a vision."

The whole hog

In Easter 2008 the lease was eventually signed and the couple could turn their ideas into actions. And boy, did they act. The existing store had to be gutted because the old and new units couldn't be mixed, so the couple decided to go the whole hog with a £300,000 refit. 

"We went for Guzzini lighting like Marks & Spencer. It's spot-lighting rather than strip, so the products are much better emphasised. We also had new flooring, heightened the ceiling and installed higher gondolas to hold more stock," says Patrick. The store also fitted electric doors and had an ATM installed.

The couple designed a new checkout, increasing the number of tills from three to four and installing bigger counter areas. They opted for a bigger grocery range so that customers could use the store as a mini supermarket, rather than simply a top-up shop, and added a fancy showboat to spruce up the fruit and veg display.

More stock meant that more storage was required, so the couple turned part of the original shop into a store room. They also updated the store's chilled and frozen sections. "We wanted to replace our original chest freezers with combi freezers," says Patrick, "and within our chilled area we had only five metres of refrigerators, so we increased this to nine, which cost £108,000. This means that all cold drinks in 500ml bottles are chilled, as are beers and wines, which is a vast improvement on our one-bottle cooler, which would be emptied in half-an-hour when a football match was on."

Such a large amount of chilled produce brings with it its own risks in terms of temperature control, but Tim and Patrick solved this issue with a nifty gadget. "We don't need to worry about temperature probes for the chilled area as we have a £5,000 temperature control monitor that records all temperatures and alerts us if something goes wrong."

With so much pricey equipment, the couple couldn't afford to be half-hearted when it came to security, so they pulled out all the stops on a £20,000 system. It connects to the tills so that Patrick can watch not only the cashiers, but also see a list of what's being rung through. "This could be useful if we suspected any staff members of theft (although thankfully we don't)," says Patrick.

Safe and secure

The store's security company is linked up, too, so that if an alarm goes off at night, then the firm can log in to check it's not a false alarm.

Patrick and Tim can also use the system from their comfort of their own home. "We check the cameras every so often to make sure that there aren't too many crowds outside the store, which might intimidate customers," he says. "It's a great system the only thing is you have to be careful you don't get addicted!"

It took from April to August last year to complete the overhaul. "We kept the store open with a reduced range and were down only 16% running on a third of the space," says Patrick.

But with takings down, and the cost of the refit, there were times when he wondered if he had taken too large a gamble. "There was a low point where I thought we'd never get the leases sorted and then we had difficulties getting a loan and lease purchasing," he says. "The shopfit was nearly complete, but we had a £20,000 shortfall and had to find a way to pay it."

Luckily, AF Blakemore helped with getting payment delayed and in December 2008, the couple finally got their finances in order, leaving them to concentrate on finishing the store before its grand opening last April.

"It's taken more than 18 years to get the store where we wanted it," says Patrick. "Although we paid off our original bank loans, in financial terms we're back to square one because of the refit. But it has been worth it the store looks great and footfall has increased by 1,000 to 10,000 customers a week."

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