Donna and Bruce Morgan’s small Scottish store proves that size is no barrier to success. From an award-winning licensed section to local goods, Brownlies has it all.

It’s said that good things come in small packages, and from the outside the tiny Brownlies of Biggar in Lanarkshire, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, looks perfect for picking up a daily paper and the odd top-up item. But step inside this Best-One store and size is no longer an issue, with an offer that much larger stores would be hard pressed to match.

Not an inch of the 950sq ft store is wasted. As well as traditional grocery lines found in your average convenience store there are plenty of treats and artisan products to entice customers and improve basket spend. Alongside the staple ranges of canned goods and confectionery, shoppers can find artisan biscuits or locally-produced ice cream.

Offering such a wide range of goods is a deliberate move, say owners Bruce and Donna Morgan. Faced with competition from a nearby Sainsbury’s Local and a Spar, the duo felt that competing on range was the way forward - especially as they couldn’t alter the shape of the store. “It’s a listed building so as much as we’d love to knock down the walls in the middle of the store, we can’t,” explains Donna. “Instead we focus on the products that make us different to other stores in the area.”

Store facts

Brownlies of Biggar

Store size: 950sq ft

Weekly turnover: £21,500 including services

Key products: alcohol, grocery and confectionery

Community engagement: Raised £3,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support; speaks at the local school about running a business

Energy efficiency: LED lighting throughout, replaced freezer with a more energy-efficient version

The technique seems to be working - the store’s turnover has increased to £21,500 per week over the past six months from £19,100 the previous year, with customers constantly popping something extra into their basket. Local goods, of which there are many, are highlighted with a bright Scottish flag illustrating their proximity to the store.

“We want customers to think of us as somewhere they’ll get something different each time they visit us,” points out Donna, “but also get everything they need from their day-to-day shop.”

Customers say the approach works for them, with one commenting that she comes from the next town over to visit the store because “it’s an exciting place to shop”.

Adding to the excitement is the store’s alcohol offering. Making up 18% of the store’s overall sales and showing the same level of growth as the store itself, the alcohol category is vital for the business. Indeed, its success has been recognised by winning the off licence category award in the 2014 Convenience Retail Awards.

An Aladdin’s cave, the beers and wines section is very different from the rest of the store, marked out with a separate ceiling style and flooring. The duo put a lot of work into the category, running monthly promotions, holding wine tastings and keeping their range looking as fresh as possible.

Keen to keep abreast of trends, the couple have doubled the size of the craft beers range over the past 12 months to cater for increased customer demand. “Craft beers have become really popular recently,” says Bruce. “People want to try something new and these are a great way of trying several new products in one go. They’re also being used as a conversation point, or something to build an evening around. We’re always willing to try a different craft brand to see how it goes down, and it’s great to be able to recommend something new to customers on a regular basis.”

The Morgans are also looking to make the most of other areas of growth in alcohol. “Cider is really taking off, especially flavoured ones,” says Donna. “I can see it becoming as big as craft beers. Customers want variety so it’s important that we help provide it.”

This variety is apparent throughout the section. Besides all the usual red and white wines are unique lines such as the Cairn O’Mohr range of strawberry and elderflower wines. “Our customers can pick up their regular alcohol anywhere, but only here can they get unusual lines that interest them,” says Donna.

As well as a comprehensive range, they have some well thought-out wine promotions to keep the customers happy. “Since nobody has much money in January we ran a ‘reasonably priced’ wine promotion for the month, rather than a higher priced one that would put people off,” says Donna. “That way, customers could treat themselves without breaking the bank.”

The duo also organise regular wine tastings, held at a nearby hotel and hosted by an expert from one of their suppliers, Wine Importers of Edinburgh. Bruce says they have been very successful. “The evening creates an event for the store and customers and helps promote the theatre of wine in a fun environment,” he says. “Those who go along always end up buying a few cases.”

Aside from the innovation in the alcohol category, Donna and Bruce have been concentrating on improving the store’s interior and services over the past year. They conducted a mini refit to include a new counter area, and when the local post office closed it opened up the opportunity to run it via the Local model. “The post office has been a great addition. As it’s a Local model it’s open when we are and customers are using us at all hours of the day.”

Not content with all these changes, Donna and Bruce also introduced a new epos system to help better manage the stock - and they introduced the changes over a two-month period. “It was extremely busy, but the staff were amazing and just got on with the job to help make everything as smooth as possible,” says Bruce. “But hopefully we won’t have to introduce that many changes in such a short period of time again. We’ll space them out next time!”

With the post office secured in their store, the couple now feel that they are firmly the heart of their community. Both work tirelessly for their customers and the area, with Donna giving talks to the local school on the complexities of running a shop. Several members of the team are also on the local gala committee, so have a hand in organising community events. Bruce and Donna even had an impromptu visit from their son’s class when he invited them to see how a post office works, without actually telling his parents.

As well as educating the next generation, they offer a free home delivery service and will even collect from other stores for their customers. “We’ll not only bring the shopping to our customers’ homes but put it away for them and spend a bit of time with them,” says Donna.

They’re also keen to help raise money for charity and in a move to support a single charity generated £3,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support last year by charging 5p for plastic bags, getting involved in the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning and, proving that they would do anything for a good cause, organising a fire walk in which Bruce and several customers walked across hot coals.

“We used to support several charities but now we just focus on one as we feel that it makes more of an impact,” says Donna.

A big impact is certainly what the Morgans make with their small space. From ensuring their customers feel welcome to having the best alcohol range around, their community footprint is far bigger than the physical size of their store. 


Off Licence Store of the Year

As well being impressed by the comprehensive range of beers, wines and spirits that caters for everything a customer may need, the judges were won over by the level of engagement Donna and Bruce have with their shoppers. They praised the store’s well thought-out monthly promotions to entice customers, and were impressed that the couple also hold regular wine tasting events at a local hotel.

The judges also enjoyed the store’s balanced range, with plenty of branded beers, wines and spirits to cover every shopper mission, as well as more unique products that set them apart from the competition.

Sponsored by: Pernod Ricard UK