The Convenience Retail Awards’ Best Large Store category produced a particularly rich crop of pionerring businesses this year, none more so than its winner, Williams
Nestled in the heart of the Georgian market town of Somerton in Somerset, the Williams store has undergone a complex evolutionary process since it was founded by the Williams family in 1996. A number of extensions and regular refits have seen the original 2,500sq ft site blossom to 9,500sq ft and, like all progressive businesses, its development is ongoing.
Just the month before Convenience Store visited, owner Richard Williams replaced all of the store’s chest freezers with new energy-efficient vertical models with doors. And a few months before this the store completed a £23,000 energy-efficiency focused refit, which has helped cut energy bills by 30%.
As part of the refit more than 40m of Enviroglow Chill Scoops, which capture cold waste air and force it back into refrigerated airflow, were fitted to the bottom of the store’s chillers. Timers and more efficient refrigerant gas were also added, while the store’s freezers had energy efficient QDtube lighting installed.
Store size: 9,500 sq ft
Weekly turnover: £70,000
Average basket spend: £10-plus
Key products: Chilled produce, speciality goods, BWS, delicatessen
Energy efficiency: Chill Scoops, LED lighting, timers, automatic front doors
However, probably the most significant of all the recent changes has been Williams’ transition from Costcutter to Nisa earlier this year. The move has seen the store benefit from new imagery, Nisa’s epos system and help with local and digital marketing. It has also enabled Richard to expand his range, which includes a weighty focus on fresh and chilled goods, currently accounting for almost 25% of sales.
Central to this chilled offer, and one of the store’s key points of difference from surrounding competition, is a hearty commitment to locally-produced and speciality food and drink products, of which there are upwards of 1,000 lines, and growing.
“We have all of the major multiples within a five-mile radius of the store, so specialising in local and West Country foods gives us a great point of difference,” Richard explains.
The local offer, which comprises more than 30 local cheeses as well as local meats (all housed in the store’s dedicated delicatessen counter), also includes chilled ready meals, cakes, fruit and vegetables.
Specially designed point of sale and a programme of weekly in-store tastings supports the range yet further. On the day that Convenience Store visited, Glastonbury Ales’ Paul Nash was exhibiting his locally brewed wares and having no trouble tempting shoppers to try a tipple.
“We use the suppliers themselves to do the in-store tastings as while our staff are all very knowledgeable it’s always best to get the info straight from the horse’s mouth,” Richard adds. “Sampling has always been a very powerful tool for us, and creates great in-store theatre. At the end of the day, any ‘brick or click’ store can sell a pack of Heineken, but we do something different. Shopping at Williams is an experience, it’s not just another weekly shop.”
If it’s an experience shoppers are after, Williams can offer it by the bucketload. There’s the warm and inviting in-store café, complete with deep leather sofas and selection of freshly baked cakes and sandwiches, the well-stocked deli, and the handmade chocolate counter.
“Four local girls run the delicatessen and café counter, and all have high levels of product knowledge and genuine pride in what they are selling and how it is presented,” says Richard.
“They have ownership of the counter, which definitely helps to foster this sense of pride. We also sent them on a handmade chocolate training course which taught them all about how it is made, as well as a visual merchandising course to help them create mouth-watering displays.”
And these attention-grabbing displays aren’t limited to the chocolate counter. Rustic wooden tables are dotted around the wide-aisled store and laden with artistically merchandised local fare. This is particularly evident at the front of the store, where a variety of local fruit and veg is presented in attractive wicker baskets.
“We tend to put more unusual varieties at the very front of the display to grab people’s attention and create a talking point. It’s a huge job to keep it looking good, but that’s where the team excels and the results are impressive,” continues Richard.
He is also particularly proud of the bespoke off licence towards the rear of the store. Wooden floors and specially crafted alcoves for speciality bottled ciders and ales create a shop within a shop.
Much of its destination wine range is supplied by Berry Bros & Rudd, and Williams was one of the very first independents in the West Country to be supplied by the famous merchant.
“Some of the wines we sell would only normally be found in a speciality wine shop: a key draw for shoppers,” says Richard. “We also produce tasting notes and hold regular wine tasting events.”
Another strong selling line is the store’s own ale. The concept of creating his own brand was one that Richard picked up in San Francisco in 2011 when he competed in a round-the-world sailing race. Richard was 50% sponsored by Costcutter to complete the race, which covered 40,000 miles and took just shy of one year.
He decided to start with ale as “bottled ale sales are in astronomical growth, while tinned beer is falling,” he explains. “Recognising the opportunity, we decided to create our own last year. With the help of another local supplier we branded it as Somerton Amber Ale. We had to buy 1,000 bottles to do it, but thankfully the first batch flew off the shelves.”
The success has prompted him to add a Williams-branded range of jams and chutneys which are also proving popular with the town’s mix of 5,000 local residents, not to mention the swathes of tourists who descend in the warmer months.
But all this focus on speciality goods doesn’t mean that the need to offer shoppers value for money is overlooked. Weekly price promotions of more than 500 key national branded lines are also promoted, and the store also boats a ‘Wall of Value’ at its rear. A customer loyalty card is also widely used.
Looking ahead, the rest of 2014 certainly looks set to hold its share of innovations, including a plan for a Click and Collect offer. The store’s support of local events and charities will also continue apace, as will efforts to strengthen relationships with the local media as it seeks to boost awareness of its community work, which last year included sponsorship of a guide dog puppy for local charity Guide Dogs for The Blind.
C-Store, for one, will certainly enjoy watching their progress.
For Williams, which currently employs 35 local people, it is its band of friendly and approachable employees which help it create such a welcoming in-store atmosphere.
A handful of staff members have worked in the store since it was first established by the Williams family 18 years ago.
The team is currently headed up by store manager Matt Carson, who spends much of his time engaging with new local suppliers, and office manager Val Jones, who keeps the accounts in check.
The store also employs a senior supervisor and each member of staff is given one area of the store over which they can take ownership.