Rich Airey visits a new-look Londis store which takes its community links a step further

The future's bright, the future's orange - well, green and orange if you're talking about the latest Londis store to be converted to the symbol group's new design format.
When it comes to mod cons, Alkesh Patel's Boundary Road store in Portslade, East Sussex, has a lot to shout about. The store, which is next to the busy Portslade main line train station, offers customers a free-to-use wireless network, a live feed to train times, rolling Sky News and the very latest in food to go.
There's also a photocopier, fax machine and ample café-style seating, providing customers with the chance to set up a mini office on the move. A digital-photo printing service will be available soon.
There's a friendly and personal first-name welcome from manager Oliver Haynes and his staff team on the wall at the front of the store. The community approach to retailing is at the heart of every shopper's visit.
"The customers are very pleased with the new environment. The response has been extremely positive," says Alkesh. "Turnover is increasing by about 13% each week and there's been strong growth across a number of categories.
"The Wi-Fi facility and live train times have definitely helped to increase footfall. Commuters like the fact that if they're not in a rush they can sit in the store and relax with a coffee rather than on the station platform. We have rolling Sky News in the corner of the screen which is also popular and adds to the on-the-move feel of the store. Customers can sit and relax in a modern, friendly environment without worrying about missing their train."
Alkesh is certain that more independent retailers will have to offer the kind of high-tech services his store provides in order to keep up with the competition. He explains: "I think we're starting to see the UK follow the lead of stores on mainland Europe and in Ireland. Customers are demanding a very different kind of store than they did five years ago. It'll probably take six months or so until we know exactly what's going to do well, but the early signs are that the customers like what we've done."
Food to go features heavily in the store. However, while some grocery categories had to be streamlined to make way for additional serve-over counters, the store still more than satisfies most standard grocery shoppers' needs.
Alkesh says: "We had to make some reductions to a few of the staple lines to make way for the food-to-go counter. We lost some shelf space, but we still cover all the essential items and more. We've just taken some of the dust gatherers off the shelves. We've maintained sales volumes out of a smaller space, although there will have been a slight change to our typical customer."
He adds: "The store is set out so that when the shopper enters they can quickly select their shopping mission, whether that's to pick up a sandwich at lunchtime, sit down for a coffee, or buy some bread or milk on their way home. You can see all the sections from the front of the store and there's clear signposting throughout. This starts at the front of the store where the staff are
introduced, and an emphasis is put on the fact this is an independently-owned store. It's all about creating the right customer experience."
It's less than a month since the two-week refit was completed and Alkesh is benefiting from some very busy periods, as he explains: "There's always a morning rush with the commuters and then we get very busy at lunchtimes thanks to trade from local office workers. There are some large companies based in the area and we're taking big orders from them already. We can be very flexible with the food to go and make up orders for customers while they wait in the store. On top of this we also get a steady flow from passing trade and locals."
Londis Boundary Road trades in a competitive area with a Tesco Metro and Aldi both within 100 metres. There's also competition from other c-stores, with a Premier store close by. Alkesh says he knows that first impressions count and is confident that his store stands up well against the others. He explains: "It's a highly competitive area. You have to offer something different to beat the competition. We won't stop people from going to the supermarkets for their main shopping, but we can cater very well for their top-up requirements and provide a modern and bright environment which they'll remember and want to return to."
While food to go leads the way at the store, a number of other
categories are continuing to flourish. A large selection of chilled beers and wines is proving popular - especially, Alkesh says, with Tesco staff on their way home. The recent warm weather also saw on-the-go smoothie sales soar, and Alkesh is hoping a hot summer will further boost sales. If not, there's always a supply of bean-to-cup coffee available.
"Bean-to-cup coffee sales are up 100% on what we were doing before the refit," says Alkesh. "The new 'On the go' branding helps and the product is very good. Our old bean-to-cup machine didn't shout about the brands at all, but the new one allows us to publicise a number of well-known brands such as Lavazza. It's very popular with customers."
Frozen products are a hit with customers living in single-occupancy flats in the area and Alkesh believes demand is far from dying out.
Magazine sales are also in double-digit growth, thanks to the decision to place the section to the rear of the store. Like all categories it's still easily visible upon entering the store, but customers have more space to browse. Alkesh also has his sights set on a lottery terminal.
What Londis Boundary Road offers is an example to all independent retailers. Technology and modern inventions may play a major role but Alkesh, Oliver and the team haven't forgotten the more traditional strengths of independent retailing. They know the personal touch is a guaranteed advantage.

Fact file

Store name: Londis Boundary Road
Opening hours: Monday-Saturday 7am-10pm, Sunday 8am-10pm
Number of staff: Six full time, plus manager
Services: Wi-Fi, food to go, PayZone, photocopier