Mohammed Farooq, with the help of operations manager Paul Merritt, took on the challenge of rebuilding his store to twice its original size
The poky, somewhat awkward Mace store at Summit Service Station in Stadhampton, Oxfordshire, had fulfilled the basic requirements of countless top-up and distress purchases over the years. But it certainly wasn’t winning anyone over in the looks department. “Our old shop was like a tardis,” says Mohammed Farooq, who took on the shop in 2007. “Its appearance didn’t give people the confidence to go in and do a big shop.”
In a previous life, the building had been a tyre bay and then a storage facility for care homes, and with every incarnation various sections had been added or removed, making for a rather unusual store layout.
“It had had so many bits added to it over the years,” explains Mohammed’s right-hand man Paul Merritt. “It was a very obscure shape, rather than your standard rectangle shape. We had good sales - weekly turnover was £17,000 a week, peaking at £20,000 in the summer - but we’d reached the maximum potential.” And so Mohammed decided to take a leap of faith, knocking down the 600sq ft Mace unit and building a 2,400sq ft state-of-the-art Budgens, complete with a BP forecourt.
Budgens of Stadhampton, Oxfordshire
Store size: 2,400sq ft
Customer base: 50% transient and 50% local, comprising a mix of office workers, families and the elderly
Weekly turnover: £43,000
Energy efficiency: The store and forecourt have LED lighting and the chillers all have doors and LED lights
The local authorities were very much in favour of the rebuild. “Before, it was a big plant with warehouses, which we rented out, a builders’ yard and hand carwash,” explains Mohammed. “It was a bit of an eyesore, so the parish council have been very supportive of the project and locals were glad it was changing.”
However, the project wasn’t without its obstacles. “The biggest problem we faced was dealing with SSE for electrics,” he explains. “We had to have a new power supply. I could have bought a Ferrari for the price! For the first quote they gave they used Google Maps and the supply would have been coming through someone’s garden!”
But once the electrics were sorted, the rest of the building work went ahead without any major dramas.
After six months’ development, the store opened for business in February of this year, and instantly attracted a raft of new customers. “We’ve seen so many new people in the store, it’s unreal!” says Mohammed. “Footfall has more than doubled.”
Hot drinks sales have flourished as a result of the extra footfall. “We’ve had a Tchibo machine since 2007,” says Mohammed. “It’s always been good, but with the new store we now trade 60-70 cups a day, up from 25 in the old store. Going into winter it will get even better.”
And the pressure is now on to fulfil the needs of both new and existing customers. “Where we can capitalise on shopper missions, we do,” explains Paul, who has taken up the position of operations manager since moving to the new store. “In the morning, you’ve got people on their way to work buying sandwiches and food to go,” he says.
Focus on chilled
Budgens of Stadhampton is more than able to cater for this demand with sales of chilled goods having quadrupled since the rebuild. The new store boasts 12 chillers, enabling Paul and Mohammed to provide a strong sandwich-led meal deal selection, as well as extensive dairy and meat offerings. “The sandwich area has increased and we now have two suppliers,” says Mohammed. “We do a meal deal with Budgens sandwiches and we also sell Ginsters; they complement each other.”
Evening meal solutions are another area that the store now caters for. “After 4pm we have a busy four hours of people finishing work and buying dinner. We have everything you need for a meal tonight here.”
While the Mace store had a modest one-metre of fresh produce, the Budgens has 10, stocking everything from potatoes and courgettes to coconuts and limes.
The Cook frozen meals range has also been introduced and is proving to be very popular with those looking for a quick dinner option, notes Paul.
Many locals are even choosing to do a full shop at the store. “Before, there would be the odd day when people would use a basket, whereas here people are getting trolleys. It’s more of a supermarket experience. Now they are confident they can get what they want.”
But more space doesn’t automatically equate to instant success. And while some products have flown off the shelf, others have required a little more attention. “The key focus for us is looking at an area and seeing how we can grow sales,” says Mohammed. “One thing we’ve moved is soft drinks. They were originally on an aisle facing the counter, but we switched them with magazines.”
Paul expands on this: “The old magazine space was a dead area, but by putting soft drinks there instead the store flows better. We need stationery and magazines next to each other by the counter. In their previous location customers could block the aisle if they were looking at magazines, whereas now they have space to browse.”
Fresh meat challenge
Another area that Paul has focused on is fresh meat. “We’ve struggled a bit because when we opened it was winter and now it’s summer and demand has changed. It’s a case of getting to grips with seasonal changes. A large leg of lamb, or a pork joint just weren’t selling.”
Adds Mohammed: “People expect bacon and sausages, but with the wider fresh meat range people don’t expect you to have it so they aren’t looking for it. We had to keep it flowing with stock because new customers were coming in all the time.”
However, Paul claims that they have eventually found a good balance. “At first wastage was high, but now we’re at 2%. You can get caught in a vicious circle because you have to have some wastage to have a good offering, and you have to give new lines time to bed in.”
Ready meals have also received his close attention. “We’ve played with ready meals as it wasn’t working initially. There was a lot of duplication across different brands, so we drilled down to which items were selling.”
If turnover is anything to go by, their efforts are clearly paying off, and in a short space of time. “We’ve already hit our fifth-year target set by Budgens, and it’s still growing!” beams Paul. “We hit the year-one target of £35,000 in the second week!”
Indeed, weekly turnover currently stands at an impressive £43,000. “We knew sales would increase to a degree, but we’d have been happy with £30,000 turnover within six months,” says Mohammed. “The fuel side has gone straight up as well, thanks to improved access and a better forecourt design.”
In time, the pair believe that they can boost sales up to £50,000. If they can maintain their pro-active approach and strong focus on shopper missions then it certainly seems that they’re on to a winner.
Locals are full of praise for their new Budgens store
Feedback from customers over the new store has been extremely positive. “Locals didn’t expect something like this,” says Mohammed. “They were so used to what we had before. They were expecting the same offering in a different-shaped store, and when we opened they couldn’t believe the range, design and quality.”
Local customer Bernard Hornett was more than happy to share his views on the shop with C-Store. “It’s really what the village needed,” he says. “If people don’t have transport, they now have somewhere to go with a good choice of products. The Cook range in particular is very useful for people who can’t cook, or don’t want to. It’s a great store.”