For Hull retailers Samantha and Mark Coldbeck, responsible retailing is much more than just part of a c-store retailer’s job
All retailers know the penalties of failing to be responsible retailers, but for Samantha and Mark Coldbeck, winners of this year’s Responsible Retailing Award at the Convenience Retail Awards, making sure age-restricted goods don’t get into the wrong hands is seen as a moral obligation, too.
Samantha grew up working in Wharfedale Premier Stores, just outside the centre of Hull, when it was a CTN owned by her parents. In 1990 she took over the business; by 2000 she had extended the store, joined Premier to turn the outlet into a fully-fledged convenience store, and managed to get partner Mark on board. It was then that the implications of responsible retailing really hit home, though.
Before 2000 the store hadn’t sold alcohol, but with the change in focus came a dawning of what selling alcohol would entail. “It prompted us to think about the limitations and problems that accompany selling alcohol,” Samantha explains. Having her own family also drummed home the responsibility. Says Samantha: “Responsible retailing has always been close to my heart. I have children and I wouldn’t want them be able to buy illicit products.”
The duo ensure their staff have the same ethos. They operate Challenge 25, have POS material displayed prominently in store to remind customers to show ID, keep a refusals log and employ an outside agency, Serve Legal, to operate test purchasing.
Store size: 1,600sq ft
Opening hours: 5.30am-10.30pm, seven days a week
Services: ATM, National Lottery, PayPoint, UPS parcel service, Tchibo Coffee To Go, magazine and newspaper delivery to the local prison
Not surprisingly, they are hot on staff training and each employee is trained using a programme by Edexcel, called Retail Plus. Each time a new member of staff is employed they undergo a two-week induction followed by a three-month probation period. The training is followed up with regular refresher courses to ensure employees’ memories don’t lapse. They have a yearly appraisal system and if staff are lacking in certain areas use this as a time to re-train them.
Technology also plays a role, explains Mark. “We have till prompts to remind staff to check for ID, and store guidance laminates in the stock room,” he adds.
Their commitment to responsible retailing is mirrored by their efforts to keep crime in check. Some 16 CCTV cameras keep the store monitored, and staff are also well aware of what to look out for. “Our staff are very good at pulling the stock forward, so if something’s missing they know about it,” says Samantha. Thieves tend to steal in bulk from their store, which they’ve found is usually then sold on. “People go knocking on doors, selling packs of bacon for 50p,” adds Mark.
It’s for this reason that staff working the tills closely monitor the customers coming in and out of the store. If they notice any suspicious behaviour they can sound the buzzer behind the till twice, prompting all the staff to get on the shop floor and begin ‘red routing’.
Red routing is where the staff flock to the areas from which goods are most commonly stolen, such as meat and fresh produce. While they make a show of tidying or facing up shelves they can keep a closer eye on any suspicious characters without drawing attention. And if staffing allows, one person can head to the back office and monitor the rolling footage from the 16 CCTV cameras.
Responsible Retailing Award
Samantha and Mark Coldbeck grabbed the judge’s attention with their dedication to responsible retailing.
Staff training is seen as a priority for the store, which is also signed up to Challenge 25 and test purchasing via external company Serve Legal, and Samantha sees it as a duty to raise awareness of underage sales and proxy purchasing. The pair also ensure antisocial behaviour and crime are kept to a minimum and even go so far as to employ a litter picker to keep the area around the store free from rubbish.
Also sitting out back, for the eyes of the staff only, is a photo gallery of all crime offenders in the local area. These are supplied by the local PCSOs, with whom Samantha and Mark have built a good relationship. They have even managed to create a profile of a generic shoplifter; how old they are, what they may look like and how they may act. “The staff can then be on the lookout for any customers that fit the profile. If they feel a customer is acting suspiciously they can alert the other staff by pressing the buzzer twice. This encourages the staff to get on to the store floor,” explains Samantha.
Samantha and Mark are also members of Shopwatch Online, a crime prevention scheme for local businesses facilitated by local chambers of commerce and the police. Retailers can share information of crimes which have taken place in their stores, and characters to watch out for, via the web. “Every shop has shoplifters, losing roughly £5 to £10 a time. Many retailers dismiss this, claiming the crime was too small, but at least by uploading information onto the site we can all help each other and maybe even reduce future crime,” says Samantha.
Samantha works hard to make a difference both in and out of the store. She joined the Tobacco Retailers Alliance two years ago and has worked closely with them ever since as a spokeswoman. “I have been on Radio Humberside, Viking FM and ITV Calendar News, discussing the latest tobacco topics. I had a lot to say about ‘going dark’,” says Samantha.
She is also keen to raise the awareness of the problems of both illicit tobacco sales and proxy purchasing and has featured in the Daily Mail and the Sun Newspapers, debating the subject. “Illicit tobacco sales are quite frequent in Hull and turning to plain packaging will only make it easier for people to recreate the cigarette pack,” she asserts.
Another example of Samantha’s dedication can be found right on her doorstep, where litter is prevented from being a problem by the store employing a litter picker. “A lot of the litter has probably come from our products and we don’t want that,” Samantha says. “So we employ a litter picker who goes around the area once a week. He is out for up to four hours at a time, and always comes back with bags of litter,” she explains.
As well as keeping the local community neat and tidy, Mark and Samantha also support the local sports teams: East Hull u15s rugby team, who they have sponsored for almost six years, and the local football team. “Both teams wear a kit with our name on. It’s great to be a part of it,” adds Mark. They also took advantage of Lucozade’s latest ‘Buy 60 cases and we’ll send you a sports equipment bundle’. Samantha and Mark ordered 65 cases of Lucozade drinks and ran their own competition on social media to promote the drinks. “We asked for people to send us pictures of their kids training and the best one won the sports equipment. The competition was really well received.”
All this altruism has its commercial benefits, of course. The store is opposite a forecourt and challenged by another Premier close by, and Samantha and Mark have had to work hard to stand out. Their efforts have resulted in a loyal customer base, though, and they benefit from the tourist trade in the summer months.
The store has a wide customer base, thanks to selling a little bit of everything, including an array of greetings cards, craft materials and gifting selection. “We have to cater for a wide range of occasions as we are a main go-to shop for the local caravan sites,” says Samantha.
With the right product range and the right attitude, Wharfedale Stores looks set to go from strength to strength.