It is a very painful time for me at the moment as we have just shut our store in Southwater, West Sussex, for three weeks while we carry out some major building work. Our new store will be 40% bigger at 2,700sq ft, with 14 metres of fresh and chilled food being introduced.
We did a customer survey last year which identified our strengths and weaknesses, and that told us that we should have a more striking shop front and wider aisles, so they are both on the plan – we’ll be remaining under the Londis fascia but it will be a real step up in terms of layout, execution, theatre and category disciplines.
The village post office will also be moving to the store, so I’m hopeful we’ll draw shoppers in from a wider area. Currently, they come in from up to six miles away to use the PO.
The painful part is that while we are closed we have zero sales and I’m paying the staff to sit at home! They are remaining active, though. They have formed a launch committee to co-ordinate the reopening celebrations and some have been working in the current PO ready for the changeover.
Local marketing is a huge part of our strategy and we’ve been working with a local school to create a time capsule with objects chosen by the school, the parish council and the staff, and seal it into the shop’s old cellar. Local press will come to cover it so I hope it will be a nice story for them.
We’ll be doing all we can to shout about the changes: we are also doing a leaflet drop, running a countdown on a local roundabout that we sponsor, and creating a bit of buzz about our official relaunch day on 12 April. So although it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a retailer, it’s an exciting time and I’m really looking forward to it.
We’ve had a few surprises already. For one thing, when the builders lifted the floor they discovered an old well I had no idea was there! The other thing I’ve learned is efficiency. During the initial stages of the building work we cut the selling space by 20%, and store turnover remained the same. Then we cut it by 60% and sales fell only 13%, so sales per square foot had grown from £18 to £22 to £33. So it goes to show that most of your sales come from your core range, and that as retailers we’re all probably carrying too much stock.