Sales are galloping at Roli Ranger’s Londis store in Ascot. Gaelle Walker went to find out what makes his retailing style so successful.

If there was a formula to create the perfect convenience store retailer it would probably involve a generous measure of business acumen, a good amount of personality, and a large twist of creativity. It would, in fact, look a lot like Londis retailer Roli Ranger.

Roli started out his working life as an accountant who, over the years, did quite a bit of business with independent retailers. “Their lives always sounded really interesting and I started to wonder what it would be like,” he explains.

In the late 1980s he found out as Roli became the owner of a newsagents in Watford. After four years of pushing papers Roli had fallen for the retail trade, and when the opportunity to explore it in more depth presented itself, he jumped right in.

Tucked down a busy residential street, a short trot away from the famous Ascot racecourse, a small Londis convenience store had come up for sale. Roli says: “I had no convenience experience so I decided to stick with Londis as they seemed to have a good offer and support package.”

Shop profile

Londis Ascot

Size: 2,100sq ft

Staff: five full-time and seven part-time

Opening hours:

7.30am-8.30pm Mon-Fri 9am-8.30pm weekends

Services: Post office, Lottery, home delivery

Over the years Londis Ascot has morphed from a small L-shaped store to a bold 2,100sq ft site. “A post office counter was added in 2003, and in 2009 the store underwent a huge refit,” explains Roli. “Basically, we filled out the L-shape so the store became a square, a feat which allowed us to expand our ranges and offer significantly more.”

In January of this year the store went under the knife again. The arrival of new chillers has allowed for the expansion of core high-margin fresh lines and a much larger chilled alcohol range. “We also re-organised the store, moving impulse ranges to the front and creating special destination areas such as food to go, while take-home was moved to the back.” And with total sales now in double-digit growth, it’s clear that shoppers are happy with the changes.

In fact, it’s been a pretty good year all round for Roli. This summer saw his busiest ever Royal Ascot trading week as local people steered clear of the high street and opted to walk to his store instead. He also scored big at the National Convenience Show, winning a prize draw to have some cutting-edge I SPY temperature monitoring controls installed.

“Normally, you have to conduct temperature checks four times a day, but this system monitors the chillers constantly and texts you if there is any change, night or day. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders. As any retailer knows, a fridge breaking down in the middle of the night is simply catastrophic in terms of losses.”

Roli’s love of gadgets and gismos isn’t limited to chillers. He’s also just completed a CCTV upgrade which allows him to view goings-on in the store from his iPhone. “It gives me much greater flexibility and means that I don’t need to be in the store 24/7 any more. I can get out and meet other retailers, visit trade shows and do more community work,” he says.

Having the backing of a well-drilled team also helps. “My team are fantastic and I have complete faith that when I’m not in the store things are being run exactly as I would like,” Roli says.

In addition to five full-time and seven part-time members of staff, Roli also employs local schoolchildren between the ages of 14 and 16 to help with shelf stacking. “They only do a few hours a week, but it’s good pocket money and gives them a great introduction to working life. It also benefits us as their parents shop here, helping to reinforce those all-important community links,” he adds.

Sponsorship of the local football teams, donations to the local school’s new swimming pool fund, deliveries to the local sheltered housing and an annual Christmas meal for its residents, also go a long way to maintaining those links.

Staff don’t miss out, either. Twice a year the team is treated to a celebratory meal. Roli also holds regular lunch meetings with his store manager. “In my experience discussing things away from the store is often far more productive than in the back office,” Roli explains. “Distance can give you clarity and inspiration.”

And he’s certainly not lacking in that department. From amusing in-house recipe cards designed by Roli’s customers, to helpful wine buying guides, the store is peppered with individual touches.

Two giant wooden carts, designed by Roli and made by a local carpenter, adorn the front of the store and are laden with locally sourced fruit and veg. The range, which is delivered daily from a supplier at Covent Garden market, never fails to surprise new shoppers, while locals can’t get enough of it. “It’s so different from all the pre-packed produce that our competitors are selling,” Roli says. “In addition to standard apples and pears, I’ll also try a more unusual variety to keep things interesting. Sales are up 400% year on year and the best thing about the range is the 35% margin.”

Attractive potted trees and hanging baskets add a further splash of colour to the outside of the store, and once through the sliding glass doors shoppers are immediately enveloped in the aroma of freshly baked goods.

Should they visit between 11 and 3, they’ll also be serenaded by the soft twang of Spanish guitar music. “The music changes throughout the day in much the same way as our food-to-go products do, explains Roli. “In the mornings and at lunchtime we have easy listening to suit the older crowd who shop at this time, and from 5pm we switch to more modern music with a faster beat for the youngsters.”

Roli plans to expand his front-of-store lunch range in the coming weeks with the introduction of freshly made salads and baguettes between 11 and 2. “Range review isn’t something I do on an ad-hoc basis, it’s all day, every day,” Roli adds.

“My ranges are tailored to meet local demands so I invite shopper feedback as much as possible, but I also play close attention to supplier planograms and use insights gleaned from other retailers and the trade press, such as Convenience Store,” he adds.

He also likes to follow his instinct, as he did with a recent re-jig of the milk display. Simply by placing large 2ltr bottles at chest height and smaller sizes at the bottom, sales grew by 11%.

Roli’s a great advocate of cross-merchandising and promotion, hence the strategically placed fresh limes next to ethnic lagers, and chilled white wine in among the fresh pizzas.

Offering his shoppers helpful hints and tips on food and wine pairings also play a part, meaning that small ‘great with lamb’ tags adorn certain red wine varieties, and ‘great with sausages’ on others. “Wine can be a daunting category for some shoppers so I try to help them make informed decisions,” Roli continues. As such his ‘top 10 best-selling wines this week’ posters in the beer, wine and spirits aisle gives people confidence that what they are buying is of good quality and value.

Further flashes of Roli’s inspired ranging rationale can be seen at the checkout. “Instead of placing impulse confectionery at the till points I have some smart Perspex shelving laden with high-margin, high-value fresh baked goods. Shoppers can’t get enough of them,” he says. “It’s amazing how powerful a simple tweak here and there can be,” he adds.

With Roli currently on the lookout for a second store, we’re sure it won’t be too long before he has even more space in which to let his imagination run riot. •