It was the cat food that did it. One year ago independent Spar retailers Peter and Simone Calnon had never clapped eyes on a Whiskas Pouch. Now the shiny little sachets of jellied chicken and tuna are credited with inspiring a revolution in their business practice, and transforming their stores and fortunes. All that for just 43p a pouch. Now that's a bargain in anyone's books.

The husband and wife team had bought the 1,400sq ft store in the coastal village of Hemsby, Great Yarmouth, in 1993, but aside from the installation of a new till system in May 2008, the rocky economic outlook had dissuaded from making any significant cash investments in the business.

"With the recession in full swing we began to look for other ways to improve the store's look and product offering without having to spend lots of money, and planograms emerged as the potential answer," starts Peter.

"We'd never really bothered to use planograms before but we decided that it wouldn't do any harm to give them a try. They don't cost anything, apart from a bit of time, so there was nothing to lose."

And as Peter soon gleaned from his first trial with the store's pet food range, it was much more a case of everything to gain.

"I had my doubts when I downloaded the first planogram from Blakemore's site because it recommended that I de-list some products which I had always stocked, and introduce new ones that I'd not heard of before, such as cat food pouches and even cat milk," he said. "Up until then our pet food range had been predominantly tinned."

However, Peter decided to put his scepticism on the shelf for a few weeks and try the new formula. Less than a week later, his doubts had been firmly cast out the back door.

"I just couldn't believe the reaction that we got to the changes," he grins. "The new products flew off the shelves.

"What surprised me most was that my customers hadn't ever asked me to stock those products; they were just buying them elsewhere. It just goes to show that after years in the job, there's still so much you can learn."

Before long Peter had implemented planograms for every range in the store, a move which prompted a 10% increase in sales and an associated jump in margins. "We were just kicking ourselves for not having done it earlier," he says. "Many retailers get put off because of the perception that planograms take too much time and effort, but that couldn't be further from the truth," he says.

Now that the scheme is up and running, Peter estimates that he spends no more than three hours a week implementing the changes. "And planograms really aren't as inflexible as they first seem," Simone adds. "We have found that there is plenty of scope to retain products that are unique to our location."

The store's proximity to a number of holiday camps means that holiday distress purchase products such as sewing kits, plug adaptors and paperback books are big sellers for them. "You'd be surprised by the number of people who go on holiday and forget to pack a book we sell loads of them here," she laughs.

Ready for anything

The impact of the recent closure of a huge Pontins holiday camp opposite the store still remains to be seen, but the pair aren't too concerned. "The key to being a good retailer is to be open to change and new ideas," says Simone.

And it was precisely this attitude that led Paul and Simone to finally bite the bullet and allow change to storm in, in the form of a total refit in February.

"We finally had the perfect range and all the right products in place, but we knew we could do even better if they were displayed in a more modern and attractive environment," says Peter.

So, with the help of Blakemore's, a comprehensive refurbishment plan was agreed upon and five months later the work began. The refit took three weeks to complete and involved laying new floors and creating a dedicated beer, wines and spirits section. The till point was relocated to a central position, aisles were repositioned, and a significantly larger fresh meat section was added. Space for new promotional bays was also created in order to make the most of Spar's Real Deals offers.

Convenience Store visited the shop less than a week after the refit was completed and Simone was still in the process of "prettifying" the store or in other words, putting up the smart new signage.

"Because it was such a drastic change we made a big effort in the first couple of days to ask customers if they needed help finding things, but most of them said that they liked it so much that they were happy to just wander around and browse, a fact which has boosted sales in itself," says Peter.

Grocery sales have already increased by 15% since the refit, and meat has jumped by 200%.

"The refit did cost a lot, but it's been worth every penny as our range is now properly showcased," beams Peter. "We're just so excited about the future now."
Category Management
Egged on by their success at Hemsby, the couple set the bar high at their second store in Ormesby, carrying out a major range review last year. Their hard work didn't go unnoticed, and the store took home the award for Category Management at last month's Convenience Retail Awards. The Calnons impressed the judges with their commitment to planograms and carefully managed ranges. Peter and Simone's use of AF Blakemore planograms led to a sales increase of 10% at Ormesby, as well as an impressive increase in overall margin.