Just inside the front door of Malcolms Stores, the Costcutter-branded outlet run by the Cheema family in Tile Hill, Coventry, is a wall covered with convenience industry award certificates, including a fair few from this publication. And the wall of achievement gets plenty of visits, too, as the store is a regular stopping point for retailers, wholesalers and suppliers wishing to look at the best that the independent retail sector has to offer.
Reaching the top of the retail pyramid didn’t happen overnight for the Cheemas, but it was a major refit - including a significant expansion of the store’s chilled offer five years ago - that was the final piece of the jigsaw, as director Paul Cheema explains.
“We’ve always been well-known for our alcohol offer, but we wanted to take the store to the next level and we knew we’d have to increase our focus on chilled to do that. We used to have just 3.75m of chilled space and tried to do everything in that, but we knew we’d need more room to do it properly.”
The store now boasts 12m of chilled fixtures, with 3.75m allocated to dairy & juice and 8.25m to food. “Since the refit our sales are up 25% in total,” says Paul. “We got a big initial boost, and sales have kept growing ever since - we’re up another 4% year on year. And we all now feel that our store is presented in the right way, too.
Chill it the Cheema way
❄ Keep a tight core range, but keep adding new lines to maintain shopper interest
❄ Adapt your meat and ready meal ranges to the changing seasons
❄ Merchandise by mission: keep breakfast products together and put meat near cooking sauces
❄ Keep the faith, and don’t be scared of the wastage
He firmly believes that retailers need to set their sights high and aim to meet the best standards. “You have to think and act like the big boys to succeed,” he points out. “Shoppers want and expect the same standards that they see in the supermarkets. If your dairy and fresh food aren’t right, they won’t come in.”
So what are the key lessons about chilled that the Cheemas have learned through their journey, to pass on to other independent retailers?
“The most important thing is to stick with it,” says Paul. “You have to accept there will be waste to start off with and learn to live with it, not be scared of it. Costcutter told us that, to start with, if we ordered a pallet of chilled, we’d need to be prepared to throw a pallet away. But once you overcome the fear you can do it properly.”
Even today, with years of experience and a well-honed range, wastage still occurs. “We’ve had a couple of bad weeks for fresh meat recently, but we can’t cut it back too much as we know there will always be someone coming to the store to look for it,” explains Paul. “But there are things you can do to reduce the wastage, such as selling the stock at half-price to the staff.”
Staff engagement is vital, with one team member given responsibility for the chilled section full-time Monday to Friday, with Paul himself personally supervising it at the weekend.
“You need to check the labels and do the orders correctly, but it’s also important to chat to customers to see what they think of what you are offering,” explains Paul. “We like to flex our range, and refresh it all the time. Sometimes it’s for seasonal reasons, but you also need to create interest.
“For example, braising steak and diced beef are on sale throughout the colder winter months, but once we get a consistent run of good weather we bring the BBQ meat in to replace it.”
Paul identifies cooked meat, pizza and fresh chicken as strong sellers all year, and has a strategy for maximising sales and customer interest in the cheese fixture.
“We have a range of branded and (Heritage) own-label Cheddar, and then switch around the Continental cheese selection based on the Nisa promotions.”
Customer flow is also carefully thought out, with complementary chilled and ambient lines, such as meat and cooking sauces or ambient and chilled snacks, positioned opposite each other.
Aisles are also interrupted by ‘wine of the month’ promotions or stacks of products on extra-special deals such as tinned tomatoes or gravy granules. Malcolms also has a Rustlers-branded microwave in store so that customers can warm up their burgers instantly.
“I would advise any retailer to use suppliers more,” adds Paul. “We need their help, and they are willing to offer it, so why not? Chilled and dairy play such an important role in a convenience business. If you don’t get them right, you won’t get the store right.” •
Chilled Champions is a new initiative from Convenience Store in partnership with leading suppliers Dairy Crest, Kepak, Müller Dairy, PepsiCo and Robert Wiseman Dairies.
The objective is to provide independent convenience retailers with comprehensive category advice to help the industry maximise the opportunities within the chilled sector by sharing best practice and making recommendations on range, layout, customer flow, category adjacencies and visibility in store.
A core chilled range needs to include milk, cream, juice, yogurts, yellow fats, cheese, cooked meats, bacon, protein (raw meat), pizzas, ready meals, sandwiches, pies, meat snacks and juices & shakes to go.
It is also important to remember that chilled foods shoppers could be on a variety of missions when they visit their local store, so there needs to be the appropriate balance between ‘food for now’ and ‘eat later’ lines.
Would you like a chilled makeover? If you’d like a visit from the Chilled Champions to update and improve your chilled range, contact C-Store editor David Rees on firstname.lastname@example.org, or call him on 01293 610218.