While most stores will be taking stock after a whirlwind summer of events, and beginning to plan for Christmas, in the topsy-turvy world of Eurospar Broomhill the store has spent a relatively low-key summer carefully planning for its very own silly season. “The students are all back this month,” says manager Tim Farmer. “September is like Christmas for us, it’s our busiest few weeks of the year. It’s a shock to the system after the quiet summer!”
The store’s proximity to Sheffield University means that students account for 50% of sales, so when they go home for their holidays business is notably quieter. But diligent Tim has by no means been taking it easy. Even as he leads C-Store towards the back office for our interview, he is constantly stopping to tidy fixtures.
He explains that it is essential that the store assessed the previous year’s performance before the students return, changing fixtures in accordance with key trends and ensuring that the store is making the most of popular categories. The store has been a Eurospar for only three years, previously operating as a Somerfield, but in that time it has made a good name for itself, boasting a strong food-to-go area and being honoured as a Best Large Store finalist at the 2011 Convenience Retail Awards.
Opening hours: 7am-11pm Mon-Sat 11am-5pm Sun
Size: 6,500sq ft
Additional services: Home delivery, PayPoint, lottery, free ATM, hot food to go
Staff: 30 full-time, 65 part-time
But as every retailer worth their salt knows, you can’t maintain top credentials without evolving, and so Tim has been busy putting plans in place for the new academic year.
“We’ve moved our chilled food to go to the first aisle so that it’s the first category you see as you walk through the door,” he says. He explains that the store’s lunch offering is a key point of difference from competitors. “In most multiples and c-stores sandwiches are packaged, whereas ours are made fresh, as are our salads. In its previous position by the checkout, chilled food to go wasn’t visible from the store entrance, so it made more sense to take it to the front.”
To make way for the sandwiches, fruit and veg has been moved slightly further back into the store, but Tim is convinced that sales will not be affected. “The section used to run around the store, so people could only see the fruit from the entrance and might not realise we had vegetables. Now that we have moved them all further back, they can all be displayed together, making for a stronger display.”
Early signs are positive, with fruit and veg sales steady and sandwich sales up 10% on a good week, claims Tim.
Grocery has also had a few nips and tucks. In the past few weeks Tim has doubled the pasta and sauce section, adding another 2m bay to ensure that hungry students with a lack of cooking skills have plenty of quick-fix meals to choose from. “These products are very popular with the young people - they love spaghetti bolognese, fajitas and pasta and sauce - anything they can throw together quickly,” he says. He made room by cutting down the seasonal bay, which was used to display barbecue products in the summer and festive goods come winter.
Tim is expecting the S Budget range to be another hit with the value-driven students. As well being displayed in their appropriate categories around the store, there is a dedicated S Budget fixture. “Parents will have stocked them up with branded goods for the first few weeks, but once they’ve run out and have to spend their own money, students will be happy to buy into the S Budget range,” he grins.
Having previously managed the store in its former guise as a Somerfield, Tim now relishes the freedom AF Blakemore allows him. “When I worked at Somerfield we were a small fish in a big pond, whereas now that we’re a Eurospar we see directors and managers on a regular basis.”
Area manager Sam Tomlinson, who has dropped by for a visit, agrees. “Because we’re a family-owned business, there’s no fear of management,” she says. “You can talk to people at all levels of the company, discuss and even challenge things. You always feel that you are heard.”
Indeed, Sam visits the store on a weekly basis, giving Tim ample opportunity to bounce ideas off her. “I’ve built a good enough rapport with management that I can phone or meet them to elaborate on ideas I’ve got,” he says. “For example, I’d seen paninis in cafés, and thought they would sit well in-store as we already have a good hot drinks offering. From listening to customer feedback, it was clear that shoppers also wanted to see paninis on sale, so I requested it at head office, and we were one of four stores to trial them. We now stock four lines.”
Tim was also invited to contribute his thoughts when the shop’s new queuing system was being planned. “I was able to discuss with our business development manager the best way to go about developing it as I was able to make him aware of the peaks and troughs in business throughout the day,” he says.
“Before, customers would queue up in a long line. We have eight tills, so it moves quickly, but the perception was that it was a long queue. Also, people queuing were in the way of customers shopping the sandwich chiller.” With the sandwiches now moved to the store’s entrance, the island chiller that had displayed them could be removed, creating more space. The team introduced a snaking queuing system, which helps to break up the perception of a long queue, while ensuring that queuing customers are kept separate from those still shopping.
The shelves of the queuing system are filled with snacks and confectionery to entice waiting customers, and there are removable barrier sections so that the area isn’t overly imposing during quieter periods.
Another big change that Tim has implemented has been the store’s opening hours, which have been extended from 10 to 11pm. “The pub over the road started opening later, and I saw it as another way to capitalise,” he says. “It also means we can compete better with the nearby 24hour Select & Save. It’s been a very successful move and lifted sales by about 4%.”
If the students put as much work into their studies as Tim does into his store’s success, we reckon there’ll be more than a few honours degrees next May.•
Tim makes the most of the store’s quiet holiday periods by using the time to organise fundraisers. This summer, six staff members took part in a 40-mile charity bike ride around the Derbyshire Dales to raise £400 for the NSPCC. Staff have also been busy regenerating the roof garden at the teenage cancer unit at the local Weston Park Hospital. And over Easter, a two-day walk covering 35 miles saw four team members raise £2,000 for the NSPCC.
“Sometimes we’ll do charity work in-store too,” says Tim. “We’ve had treadmills and exercise bikes in-store, which everyone takes a turn on throughout the day.”
Helping worthy causes not only engages the local community, but also plays an important part in engaging employees. With 65 members of staff, half of which are part-time, not everyone gets to talk to everyone else, so charity events are a good way to bring the team together, claims Tim.
“What was great about the last event was that you got to speak with staff you wouldn’t normally get to spend much time with,” says Tim. “With the in-store fundraisers, we get as many members of staff involved as we can - we’ve had up to 40 take part in one event.”
Sales assistant Sophie Connelly agrees that fundraisers are excellent for team building. “It’s good fun taking part in the charity work. I really enjoyed the cycling fundraiser,” she says. “It poured with rain, but it was worth it to raise money for a good cause and I got to know people in different departments.”