Hooton’s Newsagent’s in-store Sandwich Bar is the focus of an impressive food-to-go offer that propelled the store to the Convenience Retail Awards night, where it clinched the Food to Go Retailer of the Year Award (Small Store). Gareth Hooton shows C-Store around
It’s not unusual for convenience stores to achieve weekly sales of £23,000 - but it is when your store is a mere 600sq ft. To put it into context, that’s £38 per sq ft. Such is the case with Hooton’s Newsagent, a Best-one-branded store in the village of Golborne on the main road between Wigan and Warrington in the bustling North West.
The store incorporates the own-branded Hooton’s Sandwich Bar, the focal point of the outstanding food-to-go offer that puts the gloss on the impressive turnover and is the main driver of the business’ growing reputation. CRA 2018 judges were so impressed that they chose Hooton’s for the Food to Go Retailer of the Year Award (Small Store).
The shop has been in the Hooton family for about 40 years, but the past couple have seen substantial changes with owner Gareth moving to Best-one - the store was previously unaffiliated - and bringing the kitchen in view of the customers. It was previously located in the adjoining Hooton family home. Gareth partly credits the subsequent surge in food-to-go sales with the visual impact that the in-store kitchen brings - that and it’s great customer service. “We have fantastic staff, and they have such a good laugh with the customers. The customer service drives growth,” he says.
Size: 600sq ft
Turnover: £23,000 per week
Services: Lottery, CollectPlus, food to go, in-store ATM, PayPoint
Gareth has also spent the past two years building up the food-to-go offer by enhancing the hot food range and growing the chilled sandwich and salad range. He has also been heavily promoting the food-to-go offer, as well as the lunchtime business delivery package, within the community. “Word of mouth has been a great tool for promoting our food-to-go offer. We also distribute flyers to the community every week, listing our full menu with more than 100 options and our business lunches package. We get new customers each week as a result.” Gareth also uses social media to promote the food-to-go offer, and recently ran a competition on Facebook offering ‘three for two’ breakfasts for customers who ‘shared and liked’ the post, which also highlighted the CRA award.
The business lunch package is offered at £3-£6 per head. “0ur response time is pretty quick - customers have been known to call just half-an-hour before they require the platter, and we’ve delivered,” Gareth enthuses. “On the Friday before Christmas we were sending £60 orders to workplaces across the area.”
The kitchen opens at 7am on Mondays to Fridays, and at 8.30am on weekends. It serves a range of hot and cold meals and meal solutions throughout the day, from sandwiches to more elaborate options such as Hunters chicken, Italian meatballs or BBQ pork ribs, all of which customers can order by phone before picking up. Omelettes, burgers, soup, toasties and casseroles are also on the menu. In the morning customers can order a mouth-watering selection of cooked breakfast options, including a £6.50 Mega box. The chefs use sausages from a Liverpool butcher - “the best you’ve ever tasted” - and bread from the local bakery for all sandwiches. “We use the best ingredients and don’t scrimp on quality,” Gareth asserts.
The sandwich bar is complemented by a chiller that stocks pre-packed sandwiches and salads, all also prepared daily in the kitchen. “We used to make a selection of sandwiches for the chiller, but now we do about 20 times more,” he adds. In recent weeks the chef has started trialling new lines, such as homemade cheesecakes and fruit salads, on an ad hoc basis. “The cheesecakes have done really well - we sold about 15 portions in one day so we’ve started offering them more and more.”
The chiller is sited next to a one-metre display cabinet of Boston cakes, which helps drive the 140 cups sold from the Costa Coffee machine each week - the only one in Golborne. The final piece in the food-to-go jigsaw is the Rollover cabinet, which is kept fully stocked throughout the day.
Food-to-go sales are now up to £3,000 per week - accounting for 13% of sales - and continually growing. The statistics are especially impressive given the presence of a café, fish & chip shop, sandwich bar and McDonald’s all within a half-mile radius, as well as nearby Aldi, Asda and Premier stores. “We offer meal-deal solutions and ensure we have a friendly, welcoming team and provide a great service,” Gareth explains. In addition, offering a distinct food-to-go brand is a point of difference over the competition.
Car parking spaces in front of the store also help attract the regular stream of customers passing between Wigan and Warrington who supplement the local trade. “We’re in a village with a couple of schools, offices and construction sites nearby. The store is especially popular with builders in the early morning.”
He is now planning to introduce a Snowshock Frappino iced coffee machine for the summer to enhance the food-to-go offer. This would sit alongside the seasonally-sited slush machine within the kitchen, in place of the soup cauldron.
It is also worth noting that Hooton’s was a finalist in the Best Small Convenience Store category, given its overall quality. With store sales up 27% year on year, it is no surprise. The store packs in the Bestway-supplied convenience offer, providing a well-stocked chilled and fruit & veg range, alongside a comprehensive ambient grocery range including the major brands.
The off licence has the essentials covered, with a generous selection of wine and beers in the chillers, with spirits sited behind the counter. A Best-one promotional bay sits at the front of store, which included bottles of wine, cases of beer and Cava for £6 when C-Store visited.
Other notable features of the store include a substantial pet care offer, which Gareth doubled in size and range following a Bestway tutorial. In addition, jars of traditional Bonds sweets, which they package and brand themselves, are “loved by the young and the elderly alike”.
In terms of services, CollectPlus has become a major footfall driver, with about 80 parcels a day passing through the store. “The returns take time to process, especially in the run-up to Christmas and the new year when we get a lot more to deal with, but the commission of 35p isn’t bad compared with other services such as bill payments and top-ups,” Gareth says.
The store’s community credentials are commendable. It sponsors the local under-15s football team, providing all the kit as well as soft drinks for match days, and runs an annual Easter egg hunt for local children. For the elderly, the store provides free home deliveries on request, and it also supports the Guide Dogs for the Blind charity with an in-store collection tin which raises hundreds of pounds from customers every year.
While it may be small, Hooton’s is a top-quality convenience store in its own right, but its innovative and supremely well-oiled food-to-go operation has taken it to another level - both in business success and differentiation.