"I call it closing the circle," Dee says. "Everything we do in the store has a set procedure, and every procedure is a closed loop it's easy to follow, easy to learn and crucially, easy to measure.
"I'm currently preparing to open a new store and I don't want to be bogged down in the day-to-day running of the other two I have my excellent managers, Sam and Darren, for that but I want to be able to monitor what's going on, and if things do go wrong I want the managers to be able to tell me why."
Dee believes that too many store owners get caught up in the minutiae of shop life and consequently neglect their true role, which is to seek out opportunities to drive the business forward. As he explains it, it's a simple case of putting a value on your time.
"Take cashing up, for example," he says. "At the end of a day my managers might spend one or two hours counting cash, doing the reckoning and preparing floats. Two hours is £14 a day, £100 a week, £5,200 a year. Then there's my time in taking change to the bank and investigating any discrepancies.
"So I thought that if I could invent a way of cutting all this out, even if it cost me £10,000, it would pay for itself within two years."
The solution in this case is a tidy piece of kit sourced from manufacturer Omnicash, which is essentially a combined safe and coin-counter. When a cashier logs on at the start of their shift, the Intelligent Safe unit dispenses a measured float with all the clatter of a fruit machine paying out. When the amount of cash in the till reaches a certain level, a prompt reminds the cashier to go to the safe and stash it. For this they get a receipt for the till drawer.
Should they run out of coins during a shift, they can select the required denomination, and get another receipt. When the time comes to clock off, coins, notes, credit card stubs and the shift's receipts are fed into the safe it counts them, and helpfully weeds out fake and damaged notes. The manager gets a full reckoning of the takings, and the amount to bank.
The money sits in the timelocked safe, to which only the manager has access, and is picked up once a week by Securicor.
The whole process takes about 10 minutes. Dee instantly knows if there's any discrepancy between the cash accounted for and the epos tally, and each cashier knows at the end of their shift if there was any shortfall.
"It provides full accountability and closes the cash management loop," Dee says. "It saves labour, saves time and gives me peace of mind."
He is happy to demonstrate the kit to other retailers and convince them how quickly it would justify its price tag, which in the configuration he uses would be about £14,000.
The technology at Dee's Etwall store extends beyond the back office. Three media screens broadcast promotions and offers to customers there's nothing unusual about that, although in this case they're specific to certain areas of the store. Less common are the customer facing screens at each till point, which show the purchaser what's being scanned and reassure them they're getting their money-off deals on multibuys.
Every sale is recorded on CCTV and matched to epos, so if anything isn't scanned, or any potential underage purchase is not challenged, there's a record. Some owners go a step further, monitoring CCTV on a laptop when they're out of the store, but true to form Dee isn't even satisfied with that. He's found an overseas service that will watch store activity for him, picking out and reporting any anomalies like staff arriving late, boxes left in the aisles, customers not being offered a basket and gaps on the shelves.
Manager Sam Nye is rarely caught out, but now and then his Blackberry will chirp and Dee will tell him there's a couple of kids lurking in the alcohol aisle, or that he hasn't been rotating the milk. The next addition, an energy monitoring service, will warn staff if chillers are going over temperature. Plus, the lights in the staff areas are already on sensors, a £350 investment that will pay for itself in two years.
Isn't this all a bit Big Brother? Not at all, Dee insists. "You need control. We're heading towards a watershed for this trade. I look around this store and I think that in five years' time half of this will be gone. The younger generation want different things from their local shop. Tinned peas just don't sell any more, newspaper delivery is in decline, and we're losing lottery sales to the internet. I can see us giving half the store over to a hot food franchise.
"So should I be spending time sorting out local difficulties, or looking at the bigger picture? I know what sells and what doesn't. I know the margin on every item in the store. I know where my staff are, what they're doing, and if there's any loss, it can be attributed. Technology is the best thing for me It lets me concentrate on the things that matter."
Cream of the crop, and this one's still a bit hush-hush, is the new epos system Dee is trialling for Torex. At the touch of a button he's getting daily reports on anything selling at negative margin, over- and under-stocks and even some esoteric stuff: 'Ordered But Never Sold' is a good one to bash Sam over the head with, apparently. "It's called 'Health Check' and it's a brilliant feature," Dee says.
With the new store in Stockport due to open in April, Dee's got his hands full dealing with shopfitters and local authorities, but his eye for a technological advance is still driving the project.
He's been monitoring the development of electronic shelf edge labels, which have until now been an expensive luxury. But with a supplier offering him labels at 11p each, he's ready to dive in.
"I speak to other retailers who say they can't afford to invest in these kind of systems," says Dee. "I explain that everything I do is about saving money. Too many people underinvest in time- and labour-saving systems. That's not a long-term strategy for businesses like ours."
Best Customer Service
s that technology will never replace, and excellent customer service is one of them.
Dee may be teetering on the edge of techno-geekery, but he knows that the lifeblood of a local store comes from an altogether more human interface. "You can't beat a good old-fashioned cashier," he says. "We have a lot of older customers, and the OAPs need their TLC in the morning."
When the judges of the Convenience Retailing Awards (CRAs) visited the Etwall store, they were pleased to see how Dee and the staff made their customers welcome and had a clear rapport that went far beyond the usual 'good mornings'. Even the younger customers were keen to hang around for a chat.
A lot of the good work is done off the radar the store doesn't make a big deal of delivering shopping to older customers, or giving them a lift home. And Dee adopts a hard-line approach to kids who shoplift, calling both the police and the parents, which doesn't always make him popular but which he believes will reap rewards for the community in the long term.
Other initiatives are more high profile, like providing books and safety bibs for schools (not always the nearest one, as the parents there already know the shop, but ones in outlying villages) and supporting the local bowls and cricket teams.
A new idea is 'Tidy Your Village' day. Dee is hoping to get council permission to arrange an event where the locals sweep through the village from end to end, picking up rubbish, tidying hedges and adding licks of paint here and there. The store, of course, will be the hub of the wheel.
Typically, Dee has found a way of measuring staff performance and setting targets, even in this area.
"We have regular staff meetings where we assess our performance against categories like professionalism, dynamism, friendliness and responsiveness," he says. "We take notes and set targets. It takes days to gain a regular customer and seconds to lose one, and that's why it's a huge part of our staff training."
The result is a happy store which gives a small community its beating heart and that's why the judges chose Londis Etwall for the Customer Service Award at this year's CRAs.