Stoke retailer Dave Brunt has built up a loyal customer base over the past 30 years, but the time came to update his Londis store to cater for a new breed of shopper

Dave Brunt is rightly proud of the history of his store, which has evolved and moved with the times over its 30-year existence in the Stoke neighbourhood of Birches Head. It started life as a CTN, before it doubled in size to a c-store after Dave bought the next door unit in 1987, and four years later became the most northerly Londis store in the country. The following year, 1995, saw an extension and the addition of an in store bakery - and nearly 20 years later Dave knew it was time to upgrade once again.

“I was aware the store was tired, but I didn’t realise how dated it was until I looked at the before and after photos following the refit,” he says. The £100,000 refurbishment covered energy-efficient lighting, a new ceiling and gir flooring - “you can run forklift trucks over it, it’s very hard-wearing,” Dave enthuses - as well as a new disabled ramp. He added chiller doors and doubled the size of the refrigeration, brought the food to go operation into the store and relocated off licence to the front of store. With the new premium-looking Londis fascia and signage, the ravamped store was almost mistaken for another well-known brand when it relaunched earlier in the summer. “Feedback from the customers has been terrific,” he says. “People compare it to a mini Waitrose! It’s the general look and feel of the store and the friendly staff - you’ve just got to make people enjoy the experience.”

Store facts

Londis Birches Head

Size: 1,400sq ft

Staff: 12

Services: Collect+, home news delivery, National Lottery, PayPoint, ATM

Opening hours:

Monday- Saturday: 7am - 9pm

Sunday 7.30am - 9pm

With the food to go operation now visible in store to add “some theatre”, and hot food introduced - previously savoury food was left to cool after being cooked - alongside a Tchibo coffee machine, category sales are beginning to take off. “We’re seeing hot sales and coffee really pick up with the autumn upon us,” he says. A breakfast bap and coffee deal is on offer for £3 (bacon or sausage), while the filled baguettes also sell well. Dave also specialises in a local product, the Stoke oatcake, similar in appearance to a pancake. “We sell oatcakes filled with bacon & cheese, or sausage, for £1. We assemble them on demand and sell about a dozen a day,” he says. “We also sell packs of six on the counter for £1.10. It’s another point of difference,” he says. C-Store can attest that the oatcakes, which are sold at a 25% margin, are delicious, both with or without fillings. “We want to develop the menu and lunchtime deals - we’ve got salads and maybe kids’ lunchboxes in the pipeline, but it’s early stages,” he adds.

Chilled sales have gone up since the refit, with ready meals, salads and coleslaws thriving. Fruit and veg is also growing, although Dave wants to return to a loose offering in response to consumer demand and in order to minimise wastage. “We did quite well with chilled before but were struggling with space. Now we’ve added range, it’s growing quite significantly,” he says.

The off licence now has increased space for floor stacks, including cases of beer and cider sold at round pound price points. Otherwise beer and white wine is all stocked in the chillers, with round pound pricing again communicated clearly. But Dave has also added an enticing point of difference to the off licence with a standalone fridge for cans of pre-mix, with a two for £3 offer, as well as a standalone freezer stocking frozen cocktails, which were previously solid as ambient. “Both have sold really well since we introduced them after the relaunch - it’s an impulse thing and the ladies seem to especially like them,” he says. “Putting them near the wine chillers really helps too.”

Another store update is the comprehensive range of e-cigarettes displayed on the till, which Dave says is growing all the time, particularly the liquid refills. “However, lots of smokers try e-cigs and then go back to tobacco,” he adds.

Overall the changes have produced the desired results. “Basket spend is up, people are certainly doing more significant shops than they were before because I’ve got a better range,” Dave says. “The prices are also very competitive - it’s just getting our message across that there is value here. We’re focusing much more on value now.” That much is clear upon entry, where a £1 promotion bay sits at the front of store, with products alternating every three weeks. The new Londis value SmartBuy range, which is selling well, is highlighted with shelf barkers, while £1 price points are spread across local eggs, confectionery, fruit and veg and branded snacks. In addition, the store is trialling Londis radio, which promotes the latest products. “We always have the radio on in the store anyway, it creates a better atmosphere,” he says.

The price points keep the store competitive, but it does come at a price, Dave admits. “Years ago we didn’t have to do offers, but now we have discounters doing bread for a pound. Our bottom line is getting smaller all the time. I’ve been here 30 years and I’m definitely working harder now than ever before.” But it is Dave’s longevity which offers the store another point of difference. “We’ve got more of a personal touch here than the multiples. I could guarantee I know most customers’ names. My big advantage I have over the likes of Tesco is that I’m at the heart of where people live, you can’t take that away from me,” he says. A community noticeboard and another board documenting the history of the store highlight his community engagement, and he also delivers to elderly customers on demand. “People will call up and we’ll take the order to them. Older people are more reliant on me, they don’t have computers or mobiles.”

Dave also provides a home news delivery service, but customers have nearly halved from a peak of about 500 as the news and magazines category continues its slow decline. But he is reaching out to the next generation of shopper by signing up to a new smartphone app that allows him to distribute offers and deals directly to people’s smartphones. The Big Deals Local app (bigDL) is aimed at enhancing stores’ communication with local shoppers, while saving consumers time and money. “If users are within 25 metres of the store they get pinged certain offers, which are personalised to them,” he says. “It’s all about attracting the younger generation - we’ve already got the older people. Everything’s done on a phone among young people.”

Dave will also earn money from an ‘epoints’ reward scheme, which he hopes to pass on to a local school. “BigDL will match those points so it will make a difference. We’ll do a presentation at the school to get them involved, so people will know that whatever they spend in my store, the school will benefit,” Dave says. “BigDL won’t contribute forever, so eventually the onus will fall on me. But by that point my sales will be high enough to be able to afford the contributions.”

Dave has deftly navigated his store through the sea of change in convenience retailing and accumulated many loyal shoppers over the years. But as one generation moves on, the next one awaits.

Saving energy

During the refit Dave spent over £30,000 on chillers with doors and doubled the size of his refrigeration.

He expects to save £1,500 a year on his bills despite the extra space, while generating additional sales at the same time.

“It’s brought me up to date really. I have to admit energy efficiency wasn’t the prime reason for introducing chillers with doors - but it’s a bonus because it’s not costing me much to run,” Dave says.

He also introduced LED lighting throughout the store, with estimated savings of £1,200 a year - equating to an annual total of £2,700 worth of combined savings.

Dave invested £100,000 in the refit, with Londis providing signage and fascia updates.