If your store is looking a bit tired, or you fancy a change, there are plenty of ways to update it without you having to break the bank. Kate Miller reports.

Successful retailers will often tell you that their inspiration comes from other stores. That’s certainly where Adam Hogwood, manager of Budgens, Broadstairs, in Kent, got the idea to make a feature point in his alcohol section using barrels as store furniture. “The barrels were something that I’d seen in a few stores, not necessarily convenience outlets, but what showed them off to their full potential was a visit to Budgens Islington in London,” he explains.

“We went there as they’d just won a store of the year award and the retailer, Paul, put us in touch with Skinners Cooperage, who made the barrels for us.”

He says that having such a simple design makes the barrels, with their open sides and integral shelving, surprisingly versatile. “We plan to base our Halloween display around one, with pumpkins stacked inside and cobwebs draped around them,” Adam says.

They also come in handy for tasting sessions. “They are perfect for alcohol tastings, obviously, but work well for any tasting as you can hold stock on the shelves inside the barrel and serve from the flat top.” And all for £220 per barrel.

Ideas that won’t blow the budget

Keep it simple as small changes can have a big impact

Check out the competition: Use great stores as your benchmark. Good retailers are usually flattered and happy to pass on their ideas

Use a fresh pair of eyes: View the store as if you were a customer. If you really can’t see anything wrong, get someone else to give their opinion

Declutter and clean: Get rid of slow-moving lines and any unnecessary clutter. Give your store a really good deep clean.

Make do and mend: Fix anything that is broken, chipped or looking worn

Change POS: Either spruce it up yourself, or get your suppliers involved

Shop for bargains: There are a number of great websites for bargains, including Ebay and Gumtree

Look local: Check your local newspaper’s back pages for news on government auctions and liquidations.

And makeovers don’t have to be permanent, points out Adam. Seasonal events such as Halloween are a great way to give a store a temporary makeover. “In-store theatre made from bits and pieces from the stockroom, or which have been donated, is another quick-fix. We made some ‘beer gallows’ for Halloween out of an old bread stand and some two by two for the seasonal ales, and the sales tripled year on year. The Shepherd Neame rep was so impressed that she carries a picture of it to show other retailers as an example of in-store theatre.” The total cost of this successful fix-up? About a fiver for timber and fittings, says Adam.

His attention is currently on signage and Adam is introducing some handwritten POS to create a ‘blackboard effect’ for various local lines and to highlight handy hints or recipe suggestions to give the store a more personal feel, all of which costs 40p per piece of black card and £2.99 for a pen, but which looks incredibly effective.

Another cheap fix Adam adopts is powder-coating shelves and fixtures. “We sent all of our bakery section, bay by bay, to the local powder-coating workshop to get it all sprayed black to give it more of a separated feel from the rest of the shop and to help make the freshly baked products stand out. We’re hoping to do this with our chiller cabinets as it can make an immediate difference to not only the section, but the shop as a whole.” And he’s a huge advocate of hessian: “It hides a multitude of sins and looks great.”

get a deal

Online auction sites are great places to find low-cost equipment. Look out for ‘pick-up only’ auctions in a location close to you - these type of auctions usually attract fewer bids and lower prices

Another way to spruce up your store on the cheap, according to Adam, is to work with suppliers. The store hands over the end of a section to local suppliers on a sale or return basis, taking 10% of their sales. “After the agreed period, we know if products work or not. The supplier comes in and dresses the entire end and designs the POS at their cost,” says Adam.

And it’s not just local suppliers who can help. Adam also recommends putting in time with reps to ensure you receive FSDUs from suppliers. “It can really pay off. Nicky, one of our reps, has fed back the work that she did with us on our Cadbury display, and head office was so impressed that they used the pictures and ideas in the training folder for other reps. This helped us build a really strong relationship w ith Cadbury and means we get support from them, including a re-lay of our entire confectionery when we feel it is necessary. It lifts the whole till area if that section is changed around.

“Vikki, our Coca-Cola rep, is also really supportive of our business.”

According to Conrad Davies, who runs two Eurospars and two Spar stores in Wales, it can be the small tweaks that really make the big differences. He recently had “a bit of a brush-up” in his Blaenau Ffestiniog store and was amazed at the results given the small outlay.

“We made sure lights worked and replaced broken ceiling tiles, stripped and changed chipped paintwork, had a good clean and generally fixed anything that was broken or just looking a bit tired.” At the same time he changed around the chillers and remerchandised the store. “We probably spent about £1k, and sales went up overnight. We made the store look loved.”

The process began with Conrad walking the store as if he was a customer and looking out for anything that was broken or dirty. “It’s easy to miss it when you look at it every day. Sometimes, if you come in through the back door, it can be weeks since you’ve actually come in through your own front door and seen the store from the shopper’s perspective.”

He says that given the competition from the supermarkets’ convenience formats, retailers can’t afford to rest on their laurels. “The store has got to look really good these days, and professionally run. There is so much choice for consumers that you have to make sure your store looks like the number-one destination in town.”

For Scott Preston of Tagon Stores in Shetland, it’s location rather than competition that’s the challenge. But his retailer’s instinct means he’s never short of ideas. Faced with a surplus of Christmas paper and a need to spruce up the ‘specials’ area of the store, Scott used the paper to cover shelving. “It just makes the old wooden shelves a bit brighter and adds a bit of theatre.”

And to give life to a dull corner of his store, he sells the paintings produced by one of his sales staff. “She gets a bit of wall to sell her work on and it looks great, plus we put a fiver on whatever she sells the piece for.”

He says that they’ve thought of extending this further by inviting local artists or school kids to decorate part of the shop as a feature. A sign on the wall would highlight their work and, as well as decorating the store, the initiative would bring in family members keen for a look. However, he says that retailers need to make sure that the artists know their artwork is not covered under the store insurance.

Scott also uses bargain sites such as Ebay when looking for cost-saving ideas. “It’s awash with fantastic cheap things,” he says. When faced with a floor that had seen better days he bought two large mats for £20 to hide the damage while giving the impression of new flooring. And he recommends looking out for shops that are closing down: “If there’s a shop shutting down then you’re pretty much guaranteed to grab a bargain. We got a year-old fridge worth £300 for £100. The downside is that you can feel a bit like you’re picking over the bones of someone else’s business, but you have to be pragmatic and it is helping them out in the end. If you’re lucky they’ll probably want to sell you stock at cost, too.”

He also suggests building a relationship with other retailers in the area to share resources such as decorating tools - and customers can be a good source of help, too. “We had a socket that needed mending and one of our customers is an electrician. Fixing it cost us some ice cream for his kids and a couple of bottles of wine for him and his Mrs.”

And, says Scott, it can be the smallest tweaks that make all the difference to a store. “Dirty windows give the impression of a dirty store it’s amazing how something so small can often be overlooked. There’s nothing like washed windows to make a huge difference to a store. If you’ve got a local window cleaner ask him about a giving you a discount if you go out and help him to do the job. It costs you less, he gets it done quicker, and he gets a brew as well!”

Cut the clutter to create a warmer welcome

According to Tim Ellis, business development manager at Momentum Instore, costly refreshes are simply out of the reach of many stores at the moment, so small tweaks are the way forward.

“A retailer can achieve impressive results without having to spend a lot of money. Even a small refresh and a clearer focus on customer needs can make a difference to sales in the short term,” he says.

The first step is to declutter, he says. “Convenience stores often have a reputation for being cluttered and trying to display every product possible. It creates a messy, uninviting and uninspiring environment and will not drive sales.”

He advises retailers to take a hard look at window displays: “Retailers need to make sure they are not blocking a customer’s view of the store from the street large light-blocking and view-restricting posters are a definite no-no. Tweaking these displays invites natural light in, not only making the store more inviting, but also helping to save on electricity bills.”

Another area to be considered by store owners, Ellis says, is signage. “Confusing, old and shabby signage should certainly be banished to the bin. Investing in nicely designed new signage doesn’t cost a great deal and will help busy customers navigate their way around the store, making the shopping experience quick and easy, giving them the convenient service they are looking for.”