Gaelle Walker visits an award-winning store that not only impresses with its environmental awareness, but with its community focus, too

When it comes to stores, the Convenience Store team are a pretty demanding bunch. To be profiled here on the Over the Counter pages you need to be something rather special. And the newest Symonds Budgens store is undoubtedly that.

Less than eight months after opening, the store - one of nine owned by the Symonds family, and managed by Jason Tamplin - has already racked up some impressive stats. More than 6,000 new customers walked through its doors in its first week of trading, and the store is barrelling swiftly towards its goal of attracting 30% more.

Sustainability is at the heart of this new-build forecourt store in the picturesque Somerset town of Wells, but it is about so much more than being energy efficient and environmentally aware.

From the start it was designed with the area’s architecture and its residential surroundings in mind. The forecourt canopy contains large glass panels which not only give it a softer, less imposing look, but also filter natural light, thus reducing the need for electric lighting. Even this is specially phased so as not to disturb residents.

Rainwater is harvested to feed both the forecourt’s car wash and the in-store toilets, helping to keep usage and bills as low as possible, while inside the store chillers are covered with smart glass doors. Messaging on the door handles explains the energy-saving benefits to shoppers in a simple and engaging way, and the lime green background also reduces the appearance of fingerprint smudges on the shiny glass.

A combination of LED and energy-efficient lamps also help to keep those kilowatts and electricity bills nice and low, while a clear price reduction policy goes a long way in reducing the amount food that the store wastes.

Store profile

Size: 2,200sq ft

Staff: 11

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 7am-11pm, Sunday 7 am-10pm

Additonal Services: meeting point for local groups, hot food and coffee to go, recipe cards, homedelivery

Keeping money within the community is a priority for the store, a move which benefits in reducing the store’s carbon footprint, too. It endeavoured to use as many local companies as possible during the build and fit out, and now more than 200 local lines are stocked across almost all categories including coffee, meats and cheese.The team plan to boost this significantly over the next couple of years, Jason says.

When Convenience Store visited, staff were busy offering shoppers the chance to taste a new range of locally made sandwiches and wraps. The coronation chicken was proving to be a real winner with samplers. Even the store’s extraordinarily popular coffee-to-go machine is local, supplied by nearby company JJ Beano’s, which Jason assures us offers the best Fairtrade coffee in Wells.

The store’s staff, of which there are currently 11, receive regular training on local produce, visiting local suppliers to learn about the products so that they can talk to shoppers confidently about them and offer advice on how to cook or pair up goods.

“Shoppers are definitely cooking from scratch more and appreciate advice, which is why we have also developed some recipe cards which we display between the chilled produce and herbs and spices,” explains Jason.

“This spring we plan to launch a competition in conjunction with the local newspaper, to find Wells’ best summer dishes. We’ll encourage people to write in with their dishes and we’ll create a series of new recipe cards to make up a three- course meal. The cards will include photos of the various winners, and we’re expecting it to prove really popular,” he says.

Getting local people on-side and involved with the store has been a key focus for Jason and his team from the beginning. “The community has been great. Local people could have been annoyed about a new forecourt store opening on what was then a derelict site, so we had to work doubly hard to win them over and show them that we would bring only positive change to the area,” he says.

Prior to opening the team personally hand-delivered 300 gift bags to all the homes immediately surrounding the new store. The bags contained a mix of own-brand and local goods, as well as healthier sweets for children and information about the store. “It was the best possible way of introducing ourselves and our ethos to the community, and it certainly made a great first impression,” adds Jason.

The bag handout took place on a particularly warm afternoon, but their efforts were more than rewarded when hundreds of people turned up on the store’s opening day, leading to queues right out of the door.

To keep the customers coming, the store offers a loyalty card scheme, as well as a car wash incentive which offers regulars every fifth wash for free. “In another link up with the local paper we also recently offered a free car wash to all people who came in with a copy of the Wells Journal,” says Jason.

The store also allows some of its areas to be used as meeting points for certain community groups, such as the local motorcycle club.

And given the current economic climate, Budgens Wells also does its bit to help local people save on their shopping, and builds further loyalty in so doing. “We price match Tesco on a number of lines, including our milk range which hosts quite an impressive selection, from cows’ to goats’ milk and organic choices in both carton and bottle formats,” adds Jason.

But in order to be truly sustainable, a business needs to have a clear plan of action in order to grow and overcome future challenges. And here again Jason and his team are excelling. The store has two clear goals: to grow its customer base, and to grow its average basket spend from £6 to £10-plus. And it knows exactly how it’s going to do both.

“The first, growing our customer base, will be achieved by growing our online presence, with a focus on our Facebook page and exclusive offers linked with our new Wine Club,” explains Jason.

“We’ll also conduct more exit surveys to help us identify new opportunities. These surveys are a great way of finding out where your customers are coming from and why and, importantly, where they are not coming from. The last survey that we did revealed that we weren’t attracting large numbers of people from the west of Wells, so we leaflet dropped the area offering discounts to people who came in with the leaflet. It worked a treat. It’s not rocket science, it’s just thinking commercially.

“You have to be clever about it, though, and measure it every step of the way.”

Guerrilla marketing will also play a key role in upping those shopper numbers. The last campaign of this type saw the team target 1,000 dirty cars in Wells, leaving a leaflet offering them a free car wash.

The second area of focus, growing basket spend, will see further development of the store’s popular food-to-go range, which is currently bringing in £55,000 a year. Jason hopes that this figure can be doubled in the next 12 months, perhaps by introducing a hot pizza offering in the evenings.

“Upselling is also important, particularly in a forecourt store where 30% of our customers purchase only fuel,” he adds. “We’ll be encouraging our staff to do much more of this, and past experience has proved that when done correctly it can make a huge difference.” He’s not kidding. A recent coffee upselling competition between staff led to a 30% uplift in sales, with the winning staff member receiving £50-worth of Argos vouchers.

Jason adds: “We can only achieve these goals with the help and support of our team, which is why training and great incentives are so important. Being a new store meant we started with a totally new, and quite young, team. Other retailers might be a little nervous about employing so many young staff, but we’ve found them to be totally amazing. They’ve just got so much enthusiasm for the business, which you can really sense in the store.

“They all receive formal training, but we also encourage participation in the Symonds” Management Academy, which gives them the opportunity to grow and develop over a 12-month programme.”

The programme features nine modules including managing people, due diligence, minimising costs and driving sales.

He adds: “When it comes to incentives we also have an employee of the month initiative where the winner gets £50-worth of vouchers, and we’ve even been lucky enough to get our hands on some Olympic tickets which will be a fantastic incentive! Our staff are a vital part of the business, so it’s important that we reward them for the great work that they do.”

And having deservedly claimed both the Sustainable Retailing accolade and Best Milk Retailer in the 2012 Convenience Retail Awards, we’re sure that there will be many more rewards to come for the team at Wells. ■