The team at Londis Southwater had been busy putting the finishing touches to our party preparations for the grand opening of our new shop on 26 April.

We had a great day, with door buster deals, giveaways, face painting, a bouncy castle and food and drink sampling on the day, and local MP Francis Maude also dropped by.

The new store has been open for business since 11 April, and it’s a relief to be trading again as we were shut for nearly four weeks in total.

It’s been a long battle to get to where we are, and we overran by 10 days or so. It’s an old building so we kept uncovering issues with the cellar, rotten timbers and floorboards and so on. There was a lot that needed to be done at the last minute, and at one stage we had about 40 people working at once, what with builders, shopfitters, electricians, fire alarm installers and tilers all wanting to get things done.

We needed to reopen quickly from a business point of view as well as for the community, which was without its shop while we were closed. But I’m pleased to say the reaction has been really positive, and sales have been good with a like-for-like increase of 15% already.

Our customers were expecting some sort of change, but what we have given them is a complete transformation. The aisles are wider and store is brighter; the retail execution is better and we’ve got a much bigger range of fresh and chilled. I was worried about the wastage, but in fact it’s the area that is pleasing me most. Fresh is accounting for 16% of total store sales, pretty much double what it was, so it’s justifying the investment in extra space. Wastage is still a little high for my liking, and we have some issues with case sizes, but overall I’m very pleased.

But, to be honest, what I’m really looking forward to is at long last getting some sleep!