Not many stores can boast of taking £65,000 in three days in November. Then again, not many stores can also survive a 90% drop-off in their turnover for a period of longer than a month.
But this is the topsy-turvy world of c-stores that find themselves in unique locations and which have to juggle between months of constant trade and weeks of deserted aisles.
One of the Spar stores run by retail group Tates in the seaside resort of Skegness, Lincolnshire is one such outlet. Opened three years ago in what used to be a bingo hall, the store is away from the main town centre but adjacent to one of the country’s main theme parks, Fantasy Island.
Tates regional manager Chris Dacon says: “The guy who owns the park, I think the company is called Blue Anchor Leisure, had the bingo hall and the car park outside and didn’t know whether to knock it down and extend the park or do something else with it.
“They put the building up for lease and we said we were interested. We have an excellent relationship with the theme park owner because the businesses go hand-in-hand. Their success is our success.”
Dacon points out that contrary to popular belief the seasonal trade no longer starts in May and finishes in the middle of September.
“What the leisure park has done is extend expectations of when the season starts and ends. From what they do in the park and the activities they put on, the season only starts falling away around October half term and starts picking up again in time for Easter,” he explains.
Opening hours and staffing numbers differ dramatically from off-season to on-season. During the summer, the store will be open 7am-11pm seven days a week but during the winter it is 8am-6pm, also seven days a week.
Dacon says: “As for staff, we try to juggle between the four other stores we have in the area. Staffing stores on the coast is difficult because people tend to migrate from one job to another looking for seasonal work with no responsibility.
“We have 14 full-time staff at the moment whereas in most c-stores you would have more part-time staff. But we find that people who migrate here want a full-time pay packet. It suits us because it means we should have them tied into the store for the summer.”
In December and January, the store sees its turnover fall by 90% but, as Dacon says, this serves to highlight just how well it performs during the rest of the year. “It is barely worth trading for those two months,” he says, “but we take the opportunity to spring clean, check our systems and get ready for launching again into the next season.
PRODUCT LINES SCALED DOWN
“Fortunately, we have a brilliant manager in Becky Motson. It’s quite a skill to manage the high turnover and then the fall-off, and she handles it amazingly well.”
Product lines are scaled down considerably and sections of the dairy are turned off completely, leaving only basic lines like milk and butter available to the small amount of local trade.
Dacon says: “In the summer, we would get a daily delivery, while in the winter this would be cut back to two a week. When we first moved into the store we did consider closing it during the winter months like most businesses here. However, Spar’s approach is to be at the centre of the local community and we decided to stay open and service the 10% of business we were still getting.”
Nathan Guest, who manages the Everydays Store based in Butlins holiday camp, 800 yards down the road from the Spar store, agrees with Dacon that the traditional summer season no longer runs from May to mid-September.
Now conferences and weekend breaks keep the store open all year round, apart from four weeks over the Christmas period.
From March to the end of October the store will be open from 8am-11pm and will be staffed by 24 employees. In August, turnover peaks at somewhere close to £100,000.
Nathan says: “We do cut back on staff hours and the opening hours of the store as the summer months come to an end, but that’s also when the conference and weekend break season starts, so we have to keep a skeleton staff on during certain days leading up to and after Christmas. We manage to do this by moving staff around the retail outlets based on-site.”
While the conferences keep the store’s turnover ticking over, it faces a significant drop in sales compared to the summer months, apart from the first weekend in November.
“This is when we hold the Club 18-30 big reunion weekend,” explains Nathan. “Around 6,000 people turn up for that weekend, and we open from 9am on the Friday to 5pm on the Sunday; last year we took £65,000. That kind of revenue, although a one-off, justifies keeping the store open longer than many people would imagine in a place like this.”
While the two stores in Skegness rely mostly on their summer trade, several stores in Scotland see their turnover remain steady or even increase through the winter due to their proximity to outdoor activity centres.
One such store is the Costcutter outlet in Fort William, on the main road to Aviemore, the country’s most well-known ski resort. Store manageress Lyndsey Cameron says: “We are very lucky to have a steady amount of trade all year round.
“We have our local trade but this gets boosted because we are on the doorstep of the tourist capital for outdoor activities in the UK, which doesn’t start and end with the skiing but includes mountaineering, orienteering and mountain biking. We had the national mountain bike trials held here this year, and the crowds boosted turnover.”
The store, unlike the previous two, keeps the same opening hours all year round to cater for the steady influx of customers during the skiing season. Cameron continues: “The skiing parties start passing through from the start of October, which keeps the level of trade we get from the summer outdoor activity groups going. By the time the skiing season ends, it’s nearly time for the spring activities to start.”
With this in mind, it’s tempting to think that the store stocks a few extra shelves of Kendal Mint Cake, but Lyndsey is quick to point out that she likes to keep a balance between her local customer’s needs and those passing through.
She says: “The local trade is still our bread and butter all year round, although that’s not to say we don’t stock a few more energy and chocolate bars now and again!”