Small stores have all the tools they need to make sure that they survive the challenges of the current climate. It’s how they use them that makes all the difference
The SAS and Del Boy quite rightly believe that “He who dares wins”, and as we barrel into 2013 convenience store retailers would do well to keep this well-known motto front of minds, and top of their business plans.
While the new year will undoubtedly serve up challenges, ripe opportunities also exist for those willing to stretch a little further to reach them. Whether it’s engaging more meaningfully with your local community, launching an attention-grabbing marketing campaign, or just making the most of your rich data sources to implement positive changes to your business, rest assured, those who put the work in will see the rewards of their labour. And what will they be? The trust, respect and goodwill of your community as well as increased footfall, loyalty and sales.
From epos systems to contactless payments, or even clever fridges that text you when their temperature rises, the world of technology presents a great many opportunities for the savvy convenience store retailer. But, as many are discovering, it’s the way you use that technology that can make the biggest difference.
Take epos, for example. Most symbol group stores and an estimated 40% of unaffiliated independents now boast an epos system. For those who embrace it, it’s the data equivalent of gold dust, allowing retailers to glean meaningful insights into what their shoppers want and when, and then respond to this information.
One man who is fully exploiting the data epos provides is Budgens’ Wells manager Jason Tamplin. Jason uses his Prism back office system every day to see how the store has performed, allowing him to make informed decisions about which ranges to delist or expand. “We also use sales comparison reports to see how we are doing against last year,” he says.
The use of a margin report ensures he maintains a good overall margin, while another gives him an hourly breakdown of customers and sales, helping to ensure that enough staff are on hand at peak times.
Shoppers, it would appear, are also keen to embrace technology, with more than a quarter wanting wave and pay in their local store, and half of all shoppers wanting to be able to order online in the future, according to HIM.
MEDIA AND MARKETING
In these highly competitive times, the importance of hollering about your unique selling points cannot be overstated. “Retailers who recognise that marketing should form a key part of their business plans, who put a proper annual strategy in place, and review it on a regular basis with the help of customer focus groups, can experience boosts in footfall and loyalty of up to 20%,” local marketing expert Stephanie Rice says.
Budgens retailer Guy Warner is a case in point. In addition to a website, Facebook page and Twitter account, Guy - who owns several stores in the Cotswolds - produces A3 magazines for his large stores twice a year. “The magazines function as a montage of our community activity and showcase our independent credentials,” he says. This activity is bolstered by Guy’s Taste Club initiative, which offers members exclusive savings on products. It’s a gesture which not only helps to maintain goodwill, but also captures feedback on products and boosts footfall.
In Hassocks, West Sussex, fellow Budgens retailer David Knight has caused a splash with a new customer website. “I was keen to do something different from what is out there, so we have used a community cookbook as the hook,” he explains. “So far we have more than 20 customer recipes up there, and all use products you can buy in our store. Shoppers have been really enthusiastic about it.”
From shelf-edge labelling to gondola-end posters, in-store marketing also presents opportunities. Jonathan James’ customers are reminded of his business’ heritage through hanging old photos taken when the store was established in 1860, as well as messages on staff uniforms. ‘Staff Miles’ posters also promote the fact that he employs people from within the local community.
These days almost 90% of convenience store retailers claim to be involved in some sort of community engagement. The statistic, from the Association of Convenience Stores’ (ACS) Voice of Local Shops survey, highlights the need to go the extra mile.
Retailer and ACS chairman Jonathan James says that community engagement has become one of the most important parts of his business plan. From promoting the use of the local library, to celebrating local food producers with tasting days, funding first-aid training courses, and even providing free tea and coffee to police officers, Jonathan’s calendar is peppered with initiatives that make a difference to local lives and earn him respect and loyalty. “It doesn’t have to be a cheque-book exercise - lots can be achieved by providing facilities, mentoring, coaching and general encouragement,” he says.
Another keen advocate of community engagement is Sunstar operations manager Syed Ishrat Husain, whose work with local London schoolchildren has earned the brand respect and recognition on both a local and national level. In addition to working with schools in a bid to raise awareness of type two diabetes, Syed has been a staunch supporter of the Change4Life healthy eating project, bolstering his store group’s fresh fruit and veg range, and working with local schools to raise awareness of healthy eating.
Londis Leamington Spa retailer Sundher Sandher is another who understands the value of investing time in the community. Sunder held a Jubilee fun day for two schools last summer. “Events such as these are good for business, but it’s about much more. It creates a wonderful sense of community cohesion that you could never achieve otherwise,” he says.