The past few days have been go, go, go! I have been very impressed by a staff incentive scheme set up by our tobacco supplier JTI. The company wanted us to support its new Amber Leaf Blonde tobacco, so the rep encouraged my staff to tell every tobacco customer that the product is as smooth as a cigarette in order to boost sales. The firm told staff they would send in a mystery shopper and if the Amber Leaf message was conveyed to that person then the team would win £500 towards their Christmas party. They passed the test and won the money! JTI are now looking into doing similar schemes with other products.

As well as working with suppliers, I’ve been busy visiting other stores, including Guy Warner’s Budgens in Broadway in the Cotswolds. The key learning that I took is that I need to be personalising my store and communicating to customers that I’m an independent owner. In Budgens stores they have a retailer photo on the wall with a welcome message from the owner. I am going to speak to Musgrave about doing something like this in Londis stores. It’s so important for retailers to go to other stores and see what they can learn.

We also need to be making the most of the technology available to us. At this time of year the students are departing and it’s getting quiet. For this reason I need to use my epos to its full potential to ensure I don’t over-order for January when there won’t be any students around. The system normally just looks at the most recent sales figures. Instead, I can look at last year’s figures for this time of year and see what sold and combine this with my own knowledge and staff feedback to work out how much to order.

I’ll also be using my epos system to look at staffing costs. Unfortunately, I’ve just had my rent increased by £20,000 a year and a service charge increase, too. I am studying my epos data to see what days and times trade is slower and then I’ll make sure I’m not overstaffed during those periods. It’s going to be a tough 2014, which is why it’s so important we keep looking for ways to adapt our businesses, so I’d like to take this opportunity to wish my fellow retailers a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.