Remember what summer felt like? Convenience store shoppers do - and they’re already coming out of their long winter hibernation and willing the mercury to start rising again.

But before they fling open their windows, it’s time for a rummage under the kitchen sink to sort out what products to re-stock before the annual spring clean begins.

How to get the most out of the category

Divide products into areas of the home. Customers tend to shop for household products by rooms in their home, so we recommend retailers divide the fixture into areas and keep similar formats (wipes, triggers and so on) together within those areas

Give more space to the best sellers. Washing up-liquid and bleach are among the biggest sellers so retailers should make sure these have the most space to ensure availability and avoid out-of-stocks. Double-face key brands to provide shelf stand-out and help customers find what they are looking for

Branded products attract. Shoppers want products that will do the job, and do trust brands. They are willing to pay a higher price for items that they need at short notice, too. Brands will also help to signpost the most commonly looked for household categories. Branded small packs are the most sought after

Go for smaller portable packs. Convenience shoppers are more likely to be older and 60% of them walk to the stores, so small pack sizes are vital. Place large bulky packs at the bottom of the fixture

Merchandise for a bigger spend. Put cleaning tools such as cloths and sponges next to the items they will be used with, for example, bleach or bath cleaner.

Source: Partners for Growth

This yearly rush gives retailers with the aisle space to spare a clear chance to clean up in the household category. In fact, for c-stores who choose to invest in them, cleaning products are fast becoming a key reason for customers to visit.

“The category is vitally important to the independent as a footfall driver and helps with the mix of profit as many other categories will not generate to the same level,” says David Warren, household trading controller at Today’s Group.

“Within the Today’s Group, household cleaning is responsible for about 36% of the total non-food turnover.”

These shoppers tend to spend more at the till, too. According to research from P&G, convenience store shoppers looking for cleaning products spend £4.15 per trip and visit their local store 2.6 times a week.

And because it’s such a massive sector, accounting for £69.8m in convenience if you add together toilet, kitchen, bathroom, floor and specialist products (Nielsen), there’s plenty of easy entry points for retailers to get involved.

In truth, there might well be too many. Cleaning products are the ultimate example of the ‘long-tail’ category with an ever-evolving range of variants to cover every fragrance, pack size and occasion.

For retailers puzzling out what to stock this can be confusing. For others it’s a chance to get stuck in with gusto.

“What do we stock? I think we stock pretty much all of it!” says Gary Bilbrough from Nisa Local Toddington in Bedfordshire. “We’ve allocated the space for a three-metre section dedicated to household and we sell everything from washing powder to washing-up liquid, floor cleaner and upholstery wipes - which have become popular over the past couple of years.

“Household always does well for us, but it’s especially popular at the moment because people are thinking about spring cleaning and they’ll be in to get more products.”

Face time

Thought that facial tissues were best stocked in the depths of winter to serve customers with streaming colds? It seems not: research from Kleenex shows that nearly half (46%) of facial tissue usage takes place outside of the traditional sniffle season. What’s more, over half of shoppers don’t remember they need tissues until they see them, meaning visibility is a must.

“If the shopper mission is to do a top-up shop, retailers should ensure that they are driving the impulse purchases with the likes of Kleenex Balsam single-pocket pack display trays,” says Alex Pickering, head of marketing at Kleenex. “They have a small footprint so take up minimal checkout/counter-top space, but drive visibility.”

Pickering adds that as well as convenience, getting promotions right is key. “Pricemarked packs are synonymous with value and reassure the shopper they are paying a price that would be in line with the multiples.”

Gary explains that the reason he invests in such a large range is simple: customers come in and demand it.

“Where we are is what I’d call quite a self-sufficient village with a relatively old community,” he says.

“People are doing more of their shopping locally and, with the range we do, they can get everything they need right here. That’s especially true with some of the bulkier cleaning items as people don’t want to have to lug them all the way home from the supermarket.”

Gary keeps up with what’s happening in the market so he can give customers a broad choice in household cleaning and also make sure the local supermarkets aren’t stealing a march on his selection.

He says that Lenor Unstoppables, - a fresh selection of scent boosters you pop in with your wash to go with Lenor fabric conditioner - are currently popular in-store.

“A big reason why people like them is because they’re new - but they also feature some nice fragrances,” he says.

“I’ve actually used them at home and I reckon they’re quite good!”

The right price

Meanwhile, as household spending slowly starts to recover after the recession, own-label products and PMPs alike continue to make their presence felt.

When asked about the place of retail promotions in the household category, Warren simply says: “They’re critical.”

A quick wipe

Forget pristine loos and table tops you could eat your dinner off. Today’s busy shoppers have given up on getting show-room clean homes and now settle on cleaning that’s simply ‘good enough’.

“When it comes to cleaning, consumers are no longer concerned about perfection; it is now all about convenience,” says Danielle Dransfield, brands manager at private label company McBride.

However, while living room dirt can be safely swept under the sofa, consumers are more likely to put elbow grease (and cash) into sorting out the kitchen.

“The kitchen is the room cleaned most often and consumers are looking for smear-free, antibacterial products which can easily remove grease and have a nice clean scent,” he says.

“We recommend that retailers take advantage of every promotional opportunity and pass the savings on to their customers,” he continues.

“Promotions are designed to increase sales and get pull-through, and if retailers don’t utilise it, there’s a danger that shoppers will get a good deal from someone else. Not only will the retailer lose out, but their wholesale supplier will be stuck with excess stock.”

Hilary Nithsdale, own-label trading controller at Today’s, believes that the strength of own-brand, and the rise of promotions in the market, is down to consumers’ shift away from premium, and towards simpler products that can have multiple uses throughout the home.

“A few years ago the household category was more premium; single-use wipes and added-value antibacterial cleaning sprays with exotic fragrances were popular with shoppers,” he says.

“But as budgets have got tighter, people have started to cut back on what they spend on cleaning materials, which is why it’s critical to have an attractive own-label offer.

“Consumers have also become savvier about which products transfer well into own-label, and the household category is holding up well.”

At Today’s, Nithsdale says that offering own-label products as well as brands is not just vital as a value proposition, but also helps streamline what can be a very crowded aisle.

“Previously, retailers and wholesalers have stocked a profusion of tertiary brands which can clutter up aisles and confuse the shopper,” he says.

Bucket list

Time-stretched consumers are always looking for short-cuts when it comes to cleaning - and that increasingly means ditching detergent altogether to let their cleaning tools take the strain.

“One of the biggest trends we are seeing is a clear and growing demand for products which don’t require detergents,” says Lindsey Taylor, shopper product manager at Vileda UK. “In fact, our microfibre mops and cloths have seen some of the biggest growth in 2014.”

Vileda claims 54% of the £37.7m wet floorcare market, with the not-so-humble mop at the centre of their success.

“Our Vileda SuperMocio 3Action Mop is still the UK’s number one mop with more than 1.5 million mops and refills being sold since January 2014,” points out Taylor.

“We are helping retailers clean up the category by offering a strong branded core range, together with a strong own-label alternative. Merchandising them together helps to highlight the differential in price, giving the shopper a clear choice.”

For Today’s retailers this means stocking the group’s Essentials cleaning range, which retails at £1 or less: the top three sellers are kitchen roll, bleach and washing-up liquid.

Of course, every store has a different demographic, and at his Toddington store, Gary says that brands always perform better than private label products.

“Around here our customers want known brands,” he says. “We don’t do any own-brand cleaning products as such. However, there’s always a promotion on in the category and that always helps a product do well.

“When it’s your ‘Bolds’ or your ‘Persils’ I do try to stick to pricemarked packs as people recognise the brands and know they’re getting value for money and a decent product.”

This is something Bestway Wholesale category controller Haleem Sadiq agrees with. “Consumers demand big brands in the household cleaning category as they have confidence in their ability to clean,” he says. “Shoppers are also loyal to cleaning products so retailers have to stock the major brands in each category.”

Space race

There’s one spectre hanging over the success of household cleaning, though: space.

Roll with the latest products

Those who thought toilet tissue was a product guaranteed to stay on a roll might be shocked that sales are actually down 2.4% year on year (Nielsen) - although it’s still a £1.02bn market. Thankfully, this doesn’t mean we’re wiping our bottoms any less thoroughly, just that we’re using less paper per household.

Yet, as Matt Stone from Andrex explains, toilet tissue is still vital to c-stores. “Toilet tissue, as a vital product to all households, is a must stock line,” he says. “With shoppers using c-stores more often, fragmenting their household shop across sectors, it represents a great opportunity for convenience store owners to increase their shoppers’ basket size.”

Stone says that Andrex’ Classic White four-roll is still the main attraction. But he adds that different toilet tissue variants help raise it above the bog-standard buy.

“A key trend is the use of moist toilet tissue, which has enjoyed a 15.6% growth in the past year alone,” he says. “Designed to be an additional purchase to complement regular dry tissue, moist toilet tissue offers consumers a supplementary product to assist in their normal bathroom hygiene routine. Andrex Washlets pre-moistened toilet tissue wipes drives the moist toilet tissue sector with 60.9% share of an £36m market.”

According to Mintel, customers are squarely seeking value, while the brands are keen to boost value sales and grow the market with new innovations.

Ashleigh Ritchie, trading controller at Today’s Group, says that Andrex classic four-pack toilet roll is still a convenience store classic, but advises retailers to look out for new products in the category.

“New products innovation is really important in the paper category and there are some exciting developments in the pipeline for this year,” he says.

Ritchie recommends retailers take in both the luxury and everyday ends of the paper category, but points out that while value packs have a definite role to play, there can be a hidden catch when customers spend less on toilet tissue.

“It’s a false economy. Many of the value rolls contain less paper,” he says.

Traditionally, cleaning products take up a lot of space in-store which could be turned over to other, faster-selling lines. It’s a problem which Amarjit Bhdaal from Spar Auckley in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, feels keenly.

“At the moment we have seven metres of our household range, which accounts for about 1% of our sales in the store,” he says. “I like to call it a ‘necessary evil’. It’s a really tough one to call: customers come into the store for distress purchases and to meet their needs properly you really have to have the cleaning brand they use - despite the fact that stocking all those brands takes up so much space.

“If you only have Persil, and they always use Daz, they’re going to get their second choice for a distress purchase. But are they going to come back to you for something else next time? Probably not. They’ll just go somewhere else. And if that’s true then I don’t think they’re really getting the service they deserve from you.”

Amarjit adds that smaller pack sizes from suppliers might help - but maintains that then you’d be moving into ‘Travel pack territory’ which commands high prices for relatively small packs.

“To call yourself a convenience store you’ve got to stock what customers want, but at the right price,” he says.

“Cleaning products are something you have to stock, but it’s always good to keep an eye on it! I’m already looking at our section to see what products I need to swap out to make room for better sellers.”

Sadiq suggests smart ranging to make the most of the space available while tying into customer trends. “Within household cleaning, what we have seen is that there is a movement to all- purpose products rather than ‘dedicated room’ products,” he says. “Products designed exclusively for kitchens and bathrooms are now being outsold by all-purpose products. This is probably due to the reduction in consumer spending and shoppers viewing it as unnecessary to have many different cleaning products under the sink.”

Despite space issues, Amarjit confirms that household products, from the humble toilet roll to the poshest fabric softener, deserve their place in-store. And as the UK population grows, Mintel says that we’re set to see demand for these products grow.

According to their figures, the increase in the number of households (all using surfaces which need to be cleaned) could put an estimated £18m on the value of the hard surface cleaning market by 2018. Which means that c-stores could have an ever-growing role in helping customers keep their homes spick and span for the future.

Mister Brite-side tackles ovens

Designed for brave souls whose spring clean regime includes sorting out the oven, the Oven Brite sponge eraser from 151 Products retails at £1.49 for a pack of four. That should at least give customers some cheer before they take on this thankless task.

Menthol tissues to soothe

Coming ‘atchoo’ from Kleenex is new Kleenex Balsam and Menthol tissues, which contain calendula as well as the aforementioned menthol for a better blow to help customers finally say goodbye to cold weather sniffles just in time for the spring.

Spending plenty on ad campaign

What would you do with £8m? Plenty is using it to put its paper products foremost in the public mind with a marketing push. The investment will help fund the brand’s tie-in with breakfast TV favourite Lorraine which will see it on-screen five days a week.

Spring scents

P&G has introduced three new scents as part of its spring clean sales push -Freesia Bloom, Vanilla Flower, and Lotus Verbena - which it has rolled out across the Ambi Pur and Febreze air-freshener range. Look out for a new collection of scented candles, too, which should add some atmosphere to customers’ homes.

The fashion pack

Lenor is helping shelves look good this spring thanks to its collaboration with style guru Giles Deacon. Three new limited-edition Deacon-endorsed fabric conditioner fragrances have a formula which promises 30% more washes per litre.