Providing a personal service to customers can be difficult in a store owned by a large group. However, the team at Scotmid Barnton have found the perfect formula for success, earning them the title Best Multiple Store at this year’s Convenience Retail Awards.

Being part of a multiple group can be a double-edged sword. While the level of support you receive may be high, there is a danger of losing touch with what your customers really want with a range dictated by management. Not the case with Scotmid Co-operative Barnton, one of the group’s premium fascia stores on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

Manager Clare Surgenor and her staff have worked hard to ensure they offer a personal shopping experience and provide a top-notch service.

Their efforts began in 2009 when they embarked on an improvement plan that would examine exactly what it is that shoppers in their community want from their local store. “We looked at the customers in the area and what they needed from a convenience store and set out to offer that in a welcoming environment,” says Clare. “This included the range of produce, the store layout and what we should be doing in the local community. We conducted a forensic examination into our range and what our customers want, rather than what we think they want.”

Store Facts

Scotmid Barnton, Edinburgh

Size: 2,525sq ft

Staff: 24

Weekly turnover: £36,000

Key products: Fresh, chilled, alcohol, local produce

Customer engagement: Interactive touchscreen, digital displays, customer feedback competition, leaflet drops

The journey hasn’t been easy. The team has had to fight hard against local competition, which were keen to see them fail. According to Clare, when a Sainbury’s opened a few doors down in 2011, the manager came in and in no uncertain terms said that its aim was to put them out of business. With that sentiment driving them forward, coupled with a Tesco also opening in the area, Clare and the store’s team decided to step up further, embarking on a revamp to the Scotmid premium look in May 2013.

They began to work with local suppliers including Stephen’s Bakery, which is exclusive to Scotmid stores, helping them create a point of difference. This was complemented by their own in-store bakery offer and a stronger focus on provenance.

The team also decided to improve their fresh offering. They set out three key goals for the category: to be famous in the area for having the best availability of fresh produce; to be better than Sainsbury’s and Tesco on the category; and to have a ‘Would I buy it?’ mantra at all times to meet customers’ expectations.

“It was important to focus on the core range of fresh produce so we made sure we got the basics right and expanded upon it by including the more unusual fruit and vegetables that Sainsbury’s and Tesco wouldn’t stock,” explains Clare. “We wanted to have the best range of fresh and chilled fruit, vegetables and meat possible for our customers, and it’s become what we’re known for.”

They extended the fresh range by more than 200 lines and doubled the space for fresh meat to offer customers more than 100 evening meal solutions. “We wanted to create a logical customer journey so that shoppers could move easily from one related category to the next and pick up everything they might need for dinner,” says Clare.

“Customers have responded really well to the layout and say how easy it is to find exactly what they need.”

With this new focus on fresh, some sacrifices had to be made. Impulse and non-food were cut back, and in line with the new premium look they did away with all but one of the promotional displays.

Covering all bases

As part of its mission to be better than the competition, the store has also worked on improving its alcohol section. It now has an extensive selection of wines in the chiller and on shelf, taking in various price points to ensure that all budgets are catered for. Always keen for the upsell, the team also introduced a premium spirits range ideal for those last-minute gift purchases.

The changes don’t end there. Following customer research, the management removed dump bins, secondary display units and clip-strips, as shoppers reported that they created a cluttered look that was distracting from the shelves. Despite being initially wary of removing them, the staff didn’t see a drop in sales and customers have complimented the more streamlined look the move created, as well as the fact it has made it easier for pushchairs and wheelchairs to use the store.

Knowing that the store’s success owes much to customer feedback, the team have introduced an online survey scheme which gives people who report what they think about the store a chance to win a £250 shopping voucher. The customer survey is promoted throughout the store and Clare says it’s been a great tool for feedback. “We get about 25-30 people responding to it every month, so it’s been worth it for the information they give us,” she says.

As well as taking on board information from customers, the store makes sure it gives something back. Relationships in the community have become a priority for the staff at Scotmid Barnton as it looks to get involved with as many local schools, groups and organisations as possible. With ‘at the heart of the community’ as their mantra, the team got involved with the local parents’ council and has pledged to raise £5,000 for the ‘Our Place’ campaign which hopes to turn a nearby empty plot of land into a playground.

Keen for the entire team to get involved, Clare organised a superhero-themed bicycle-powered smoothie challenge to raise money for ‘Our Place’. With the whole team dressed as superheroes, they encouraged people to buy a smoothie that was made by a juicer powered by an exercise bike. The initiative was a huge success, raising more than £1,100 for the cause. “It was something different and a cause that benefited the local community, so it was great to get behind and definitely a good use of our time,” says Clare. “Plus when any of the local children did the bike challenge, we took a photo and encouraged the parents to come back the following week to pick up a copy, giving them another reason to visit the store.”

Proving that hard work and having an engaged team pays off, Scotmid Barnton is a heroic success, with sales growing by 12% year on year and the store placed well and truly at the heart of the community.

And how did the Sainsbury’s manager react to this success? Well, his replacement came in recently to congratulate the team on their work. They didn’t exactly get an apology for the comments made to them previously, but the Convenience Retail Award for Best Multiple store in 2014 will surely go a long way in reminding staff and customers that Scotmid Barton is a winning business.

Winner: Best Use of Technology Award

As well as being named Best Multiple Store at the Convenience Retail Awards, Scotmid Barnton scooped the award for Best Use of Technology.

Always keen to encourage customer feedback, the Scotmid team uses modern technology to help engage with shoppers better. As well as digital displays informing customers of new products and promotions, the store is piloting an interactive touchscreen display. The screen enables customers to sign up to the group’s newsletter, find out more about staff and leave feedback about the store.

“Any feedback left about the store is fed directly into my office so we can act on it immediately,” explains manager Clare Surgenor. “It’s proved very effective in gaining feedback from customers, and on the rare occasion that we do have a complaint we are able to remedy the situation quickly.”

The store impressed the Convenience Retail Awards judges with its innovative thinking and willingness to invest. “Building relationships with customers is at the centre of this shop’s activities,” says Stephen Burnett, Retail Data Partnership managing director. “They have used technology to facilitate this with their large interactive screen which encourages customer involvement and feedback. Their commitment to customer relationships is highlighted by the fact that they respond rapidly to customer suggestions and complaints.”

Sponsored by: The Retail Data Partnership