Attention to detail earnt Costcutter Wath the Best Small Store and Best Customer Service accolades at the Convenience Retail Awards. Sarah Britton reports.

If you thought that customer service was all saccharine smiles and everyday pleasantries then you’re in for a shock if you visit Costcutter Wath in Rotherham, Yorkshire.

“Hey fat boy!” calls store owner Satminder Deo (aka Sat) to a young guy who has just entered the store. “Alright slime ball!” he replies, rocking with laughter.

It may not be textbook, but it strikes a chord with customers. “I’ve been working here for 25 years and I know a lot of customers by name,” explains Sat. “We have banter with everyone - some people like to talk cars or sport, others come in for the bargains so we’ll talk them through deals, and some just like taking the mickey out of me!”

While having a good chat with customers certainly gives the store a fun atmosphere, it also serves a more functional purpose. With a diverse customer base, comprising 30% kids, 20% elderly people, 10% commuters and 40% families, Sat claims that the best way to ensure you are meeting customers’ needs is by giving them your time. “Customers know they can tell me if they’re unhappy, or if they have a particular request. They know I will act on it and we’ll help them out if needs be. For example, an elderly man might want a newspaper saving, or a school kid may want a certain sandwich. Through talking to people you find out what they want.”

Store profile

Costcutter Wath

Store size: 1,400sq ft

Staff: 15 full-time, 14 part-time

Opening hours: Monday-Saturday 6am-9.30pm Sunday 7am-9.30pm

Additional services: Food to go, PayPoint, Lottery, ATM, myHermes parcel collection

Giving people plenty of one-on-one time also enables the store to stand out from the competition, notes Sat. “I treat the person who buys one paper the same as the person who fills up a basket,” he says. “They might just be buying a magazine, but people are quick to talk about good staff - and bad staff - and I want mine to be in the first category. We get people who live next door to the Spar up the road come here because they prefer our customer service.”

In fact, he is so intent on giving customers what they want that he’ll go the extra mile to keep them happy. “If a customer comes in for a magazine order that hasn’t turned up, I’ll go to Asda to get it for them,” says Sat. “To lose a sale is upsetting and I’ll avoid it at all costs.”

Staff are equally tuned in to meeting customers’ needs. “When they first start, I tell staff the importance of greeting customers and finding out what they like and if there’s anything we can improve. I tell my employees that instead of keeping your head down on the till, you need to be alert. If there’s a queue, start ringing the bell to summon another member of staff.”

It’s this attention to detail that gives Sat the edge over his rivals, enabling him to tailor his store to meet their needs. “I try not to get into price wars with other independents,” he says. “They’ll do offers on items such as bread, milk and beer - bog standard deals like eight cans for £6.50.” Instead, Sat uses his knowledge of customers to offer exclusive promotions that he knows will appeal to their pockets.

“At the moment, I’m selling Cadbury’s chocolate-coated peanuts at 59p, when they should be £1.79. I was able to buy them at a good price as they only have four weeks left on the date, but as they’re an impulse item customers are likely to eat them on the day of purchase.” As predicted, the stock is fast disappearing.

“I also make a point of selling multipacks of crisps at £1, and at the moment we have muffins on at 39p instead of 79p, which the school kids love,” says Sat. “We do up to £500 a week just on these clearance lines, and getting a 50% mark-up.”

The store’s crisp and snack offering is strong, but its pièce de résistance is its food-to-go counter, which is mobbed by school kids come lunchtime. “The local school is just over 200m away,” explains Sat. “I’d see the school kids coming in to buy magazines and sweets and they would complain about the quality of the sandwiches from the sandwich shop up the road.”

Eager to keep customers happy, and increase sales, Sat started selling pre-packed sandwiches. Although they sold well, he couldn’t source the extensive range he needed to keep customers satisfied, so the store began to offer pre-packed sandwiches made in-store. “We began selling £100 a week and it quickly rose to £400,” he says.

This was followed by a self-service bake-off area, and then the food-to-go counter, which was installed three years ago as part of a £30,000 upgrade. This allowed customers the opportunity to choose bespoke fillings, from ham and cheese, to more unusual requests such as tomato and sugar!

“Our weekly pop, crisp and confectionery sales also went up an extra £2,000, £700, and £1,500 respectively, and turnover increased from £16,000-£17,000 to £23,000,” Sat explains.

Determined to ensure that customers feel valued, the store uses top-quality bread and fillings. “We don’t compromise on quality. We still use Heinz Ketchup and HP Sauce,” he asserts.

In fact, the fresh food offering was so popular with local schoolchildren that the store was becoming swamped by kids during their lunch hour. But this problem was quickly solved thanks to the quick thinking of food-to-go head Tammy, who came up with the idea of a telephone and text message ordering service. “We already had an old mobile phone, so we just keep it by the counter. It costs us nothing and made a big difference to queuing times,” says Sat.

Since the installation of the food counter, Sat has spent a further £50,000 on improvements. This includes moving the shop door into the centre of the store, as previously it was at one end of the building and causing a bottleneck, and updating the rest of the store.

“Shoplifting has gone up slightly as a result of having the entrance further away from the till, but we didn’t want to lay the shop out with the main focus on shoplifting we wanted it to be on sales,” he says. “The door’s central location means that people can see the food-to-go offering as soon as they enter, which has helped to grow awareness and sales.” The store now trades up to £2,000 a week on food to go, making a 55-60% margin after wastage, and the store turns over a respectable £28,000.

But Sat isn’t stopping there. “I’m always working on something. If there isn’t something in the pipeline, I’d just get bored!” he grins. “I love the challenge of trying to get sales up. Last October we bought a second shop in Maltby and I want to get that up to £15,000 a week (it’s now on £13,000).

He’s also red hot when it comes to maintaining standards at Wath. “When I’m walking round the store, I see if there’s anything that needs doing. I’ll face up shelves and make a ‘to do’ list for the supervisor - just things like cleaning the chiller grills and keeping the sweets tidy,” he states. “Staff know that I only do it to keep up standards, and now that we’ve won a Convenience Retail Award, they know that it isn’t all in vain!”•

Best Customer Service/Small Store

Winner: Costcutter Wath, Rotherham

The store’s positive atmosphere and forward-thinking text order service helped to give it the edge over the competition. The fact that this store truly listens to the needs of its customers and acts accordingly made it a deserving winner of the Best Customer Service Award.

“Now that we’ve won the award, customers are always coming in and praising the store,” beams store owner Sat Deo. “We’re also seeing new people come in and comment on how nice it is.”

Since winning the Best Customer Service and Best Small Store Awards, the store is keen to highlight its success. A large banner adorns the shop front, an announcement is made on the in-store media screen and on the food-to-go menu, and awards certificates are displayed proudly behind the counter. “We want customers to know that we’re as good as we say we are,” says Sat. “You have to shout about the good stuff.”