Plenty of store managers describe themselves as hands-on, but Shane Dove really went above and beyond during Costcutter Minster’s latest refit.

Having taken on the 2,000sq ft Minster store on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent in August 2013, Shane was well aware that the outlet was in need of some TLC. For starters, far from aiding the shopper journey, the store layout was hampering their experience. “It didn’t really make sense and customers were always asking where everything was,” he says.

But Shane had come to the store during a time of instability. A new out-of-town development a mile-and-a-half away saw the arrival of several major retailers. “A Morrisons impacted us slightly when it opened in September 2013,” says Shane. “Then gradually other businesses joined the park - Iceland, B&M, Poundland - and they have all had a knock-on effect on our sales.”

Added to this was the switch to Costcutter’s new buy and supply system with Palmer & Harvey, putting increasing pressure on availability and ordering. “We had to move from the Heritage range to the Independent range so the summer of 2014 was a difficult time,” recalls Shane. “I think Costcutter itself would agree it didn’t go as smoothly as they had hoped. We had a tough 10 months. Up until the new year, we were just steadying the ship.”

So Shane was forced to put any grand plans he had for the store on the back burner until the summer of last year. “In August 2015 we felt in a much better place; the problems with Palmer & Harvey had ironed themselves out as best they could, and the Independent range was better established.”

He then embarked on a £35,000 refit to give the shop the boost it so desperately needed. “We had the lighting changed from warm white bulbs to cool white LEDs. They emulate daylight and they really brighten up the store,” says Shane. “This was in combination with adjustments to chillers and mains optimisation. It cost £10,000 as part of an energy-saving package, which also included movement sensors for lighting.”

Store facts

Costcutter Minster, Sheppey

Staff: 10 full-time, 17 part-time

Size: 2,000sq ft

Refit cost: £35,000

Services: Post office, PayPoint, lottery, ATMs

Turnover: £53,000, excluding services

The team also took the decision to move from chest freezers to uprights and install new flooring. “Before, we had two long 2.7m chest freezers,” says Shane. “Michael Boakes, a development manager at Costcutter, was very good at bringing things together. He ordered the flooring and assisted us with finding a finance company to fund the £9,000 for the freezers. Sales of frozen have gone up since installing a three-door and two-door upright freezer and an Isabel combi freezer from Lowe.”

Shane is particularly impressed with the new flooring. “We had a £9,000 floor installed with interlocking plastic tiles,” he says. “Before, it was grey and you could see the joins and was very hard to keep clean. Now it’s white with grey flecks, which is more resilient and brightens up the store.”

Shane really came into his own during the flooring installation. “I really enjoy getting stuck in,” he says. “When we did the floor, it was three overnights with two floor fitters and three staff members. I love problem solving. It was 2am and a problem would come up, but we’d find a way round it.”

And because aisles were being disassembled in order to lay the flooring, Shane also took the opportunity to re-stabilize the units and add new shelving where needed. “I bought my spirit level in and we had two Costcutter merchandisers on hand who were really great guys. I ordered the shelving parts online, rather than using a shopfitter. I like fixing things, rather than calling people in.”

Senior supervisor Mary jokingly refers to Shane as ‘the magpie’, due to his tendency to keep spare equipment parts ‘just in case’. “I don’t like to throw things away. I think I might use them in the future. A bay is £200, but if I keep old shelving then we have the parts all ready to install ourselves,” Shane asserts.

Once the fittings were completed, the next job was remerchandising. Bakery manager Carlin’s observations have proved invaluable in the re-shaping of the store. “Our bakery is positioned in the back corner of the store and Carlin would watch customers and noticed a regular pattern,” explains Shane. “Customers would walk down the first aisle, reach the back of the central aisle and then stop and ponder where the item was that they needed. We call it ‘the thinking spot’.”

So he decided to make better use of the ‘thinking spot’, turning it into a promotional area to take advantage of people naturally coming to a stop at the back of the store.

In order to help shoppers better navigate their way around, Costcutter wanted the shop to use category flags, but Shane was reluctant. “When we have used those in the past, they tended to snap off over time, so I asked for bespoke black overhead signs instead. We have three per aisle so it isn’t overwhelming and people can see easily where everything is. Customers like it.”

Within bakery, fresh baked goods have been repositioned with bread in their own section, rather than on temporary stands. “We made space by moving home-baking products in with grocery and we brought in a Flavia coffee machine,” says Shane.

The first aisle now comprises chilled products, opposite complementary grocery items. “If someone wants a meal then they can make easy associations because chicken is opposite cooking sauces,” says Shane.

He opted to build a promotional bay into the chiller run. “I’ve always been of the belief that if we have promotional leaflets, then we’re going to run all the promotions they highlight. But we have 17 promotional periods a year so that’s a lot of different stock going through and we were remerchandising the chiller almost every time.

“Before you know it the section is bursting with different brands, and that’s when you come undone. Now that we have the promotional area, if we don’t really stock a product, we just keep it there on promotional price until it’s sold through.”

He has also taken the somewhat controversial decision to move fresh produce away from the store entrance. “Fruit and veg used to be right by the front door, but because we are by a main road it was getting dirty,” says Shane. “Also, if you’re caught on the back foot, for example it’s a hot day and demand is high, then the first thing customers might see is a half-empty cabinet of cucumbers and lettuce.”

Instead, he has opted to locate impulse soft drinks by the door. “We can make it look really good - we fill it right up and we sell loads of it,” he says. “We have three bays, whereas before we had two, and we’ve put sandwiches next to it. We’ve just remerchandised snacking next to soft drinks and we’ve put a five-tier dumpbin with grab bags opposite.”

Thanks to his hands-on approach and open-mindness, the store is in a much better place than it was in 2013. “We’re now where we want to be - new floor, new lights, new freezers, flexibility with the new bays,” says Shane. “Before, we were fighting the deficiencies, now we’re all guns blazing.”

Over the two years prior to the refit, the store was down £20,000 in turnover. “In August 2015, when we began the refit, we were like for like, and from then on we’ve been trading up,” says Shane. “We’ve had the best July since 2010, with sales up 12%. From 2015-2016 we were up 4.5% year on year. The previous year we were 3.2% down, so that’s a 7.3 percentage point increase.”

And Shane is confident that the figures will continue in the right direction. “The Island is growing; they’re still building houses, which helps. But when you get a new customer, you have to make sure that they stay. The merchandising, store layout and atmosphere have to be right. The fact that we are still trading up is promising; we’ve built in some resilience.”