Pricewatch_Nisa_Clayhill_Store Exterior

“I love change,” says Pricewatch Group general manager Tom Buckley. “Some people are really stuck in the past, they hate change. I probably like it too much!” This is just as well considering that the Sussex-based firm has undergone a major transformation over the last two years, ditching its Pricewatch Local fascia as it converted its nine forecourt shops to Nisa outlets over 2022-2023, before opening a standalone Morrisons Daily store in Horsham last November, followed by a Morrisons Daily forecourt store in Wivelsfield last month.

Tom Buckley head shot (002)

“It’s been a bit of a journey,” says general manager Tom Buckley. “There have been some learning curves, I’m not going to lie. There’s certainly more to running a shop on its own than there is to running a petrol station with a shop. That’s what I probably underestimated a little bit really.

“The thing with the forecourts, we’ve discovered, is that your petrol is attracting people, so they’re coming anyway and if you have a quiet day you can reduce your price a little bit and you can increase your footfall.

“This [Horsham outlet] is our first standalone convenience store and it wasn’t a convenience store before, so it was a standing start if you like, so we’ve had to really push the marketing,” he says, noting that Facebook has been a really important tool for promoting the stores and communicating the changes to customers. “Claire Goddard looks after all our marketing and she’s pulled it out the bag, she’s done really well.”

So with nine forecourts under its belt last year, why did the company decide to embark on the relatively unknown territory of a standalone store?

“The cost of a petrol station is just astronomical, all the big players are paying big, big money for them, so the investment required is huge,” says Tom. “So we thought, let’s look down the road of what we can do with some lease sites … we already run shops so we thought that it was the logical next step.

“You can open a shop much more cost effectively than you can open a petrol station,” he says. “The government loves to talk down about how much petrol retailers are ripping everybody off, but they fail to talk about how much tax they charge on petrol. EV is obviously becoming bigger and bigger, but it’s an incredibly high investment and very low return at the moment.”

By comparison, he believes that convenience is arguably a safer bet. “People are always going to need to eat, and we’re all lazy and nobody likes going too far to buy things, so there is an element that it is a growing sector,” he says. 


“We’ve invested a lot of money in it [the Horsham store] - about £120,000 for the shopfit. It’s quite a unique store, it’s not like you’re standing in a Morrisons. It’s not a white box with standard shelves, it’s got fancy lighting on the roof and a bespoke wooden vegetable rack as opposed to the standard shelving. We’ve really tried to make it a destination shop. Then, obviously, we’ve got the cost of the lease that we’ve had to take on, and staff training, so it’s less than it would cost us to go and buy a convenience store that was already trading, but it’s still a considerable risk.”

And having recently converted all of its forecourt sites to Nisa, why did the company decide to partner with Morrisons for the Horsham site? “They’re very different propositions,” he says. “Morrisons is a franchise agreement, whereas Nisa is a wholesale agreement. So with Nisa, they give you a product, they’ll help you design your store, but it’s up to you what you do with it,” he explains. “With Morrisons, you’re operating under their brand, so you’ve got to follow their guidelines and that structure has been great for us.”

He claims that this guidance was “100%” part of the decision behind choosing Morrisons for the standalone site, adding that the firm could afford to be more experimental with the petrol stations because much of their footfall is driven by fuel.

“We wanted the strongest brand we could and their after service has been phenomenal,” he adds. “When you start up, they send a team of people in to set the store up. They leave a manager with you there for two weeks to support your store manager so that she knows how everything works.”

He claims that the normal launch time for a Morrisons Daily is 12 weeks from signing the agreement to opening, but that they ended up completing the Horsham launch in just seven weeks. “We had issues like anybody would,” he says. “There was quite a lot that we had to cram in. Morrisons did everything that they could possibly do to support us and we got the shop open. We probably rushed a few elements of it, but it didn’t make any difference to the customer experience. It just meant a few late nights for me and a bit of hair pulling out!

“We had a few last minute changes and we couldn’t get Costa to get us the machine quick enough … they had no engineers in the area, so we only got the machine fitted on a Tuesday and we opened officially on [the following] Thursday, so it was really last minute.

“We had a few plumbing issues too. I think if we were doing it again, we’d make sure the shop fit was 100% complete before any stock came into the shop, but these are all things for us to learn as well.

“What you’ve got to remember is all of our other sites had been trading whilst we’ve done a refit. We hadn’t ever shut them, we’d always kept them open for fuel and they were shops already, so we were just refitting them. You weren’t completely gutting and starting from scratch, so most of the infrastructure was there. Whereas the Horsham store was a lighting shop before and we completely gutted it and now it’s a convenience store.”

In hindsight, he’d have liked a bigger stockroom, he concedes. “We probably made a few errors with our backroom space as well,” he says. “I think we underestimated how much storage space we’d need because the Morrisons food to go offering is huge and it’s been a fantastic seller for us. I think on our first day of opening we broke Morrisons’ record for hot food sold on a first day, but that then comes with a lot of frozen food that you need to store, so we had to replace some fridges and get some extra freezers in that we hadn’t really allowed for.”

Pricewatch_Morrisons_Horsham_Fresh produce

Morrisons also offers a strong range of fresh produce, he observes. “They really push their fresh, so we’ve got to make sure that we manage our waste correctly, otherwise, that could really harm you. But if you get it right, you’ve got an opportunity to make improved margins but it’s harder.”

So far the store’s sales performance is on track, with weekly turnover hitting £20,000. “It’s getting better,” says Tom. “The trajectory is going in the right direction, if we can hit £30,000 by 18 months, it will have been worthwhile.”

Meanwhile, the Morrisons Daily forecourt, which was previously a bankrupt petrol station with a car showroom, is flying. “We thought we’d get £30,000 in the shop, but it’s flying at £40,000-£45,000,” he beams. “Now what we have to work hard at is making sure it’s stocked.”

Although the last two store openings have been with Morrisons, Tom claims that the firm maintains an equally strong relationship with Nisa. “We’ve got a great key account manager at Nisa and they’ve been a great partner for us and they took Pricewatch from being an independent, unbranded retailer to where they are today.

“You’ve got more control over the third parties you can bring in [with Nisa], so if there’s a good opportunity to bring in a concession, you’ve got more freedom” he says. “I think they’ve both got advantages for different markets.”

He states that rebranding and refitting the forecourt stores with Nisa has “definitely made a difference”.

He claims that some sites’ sales have grown an extra £2-300 a day, while one site’s weekly sales are up £6,500. “I think that’s the difference between having a brand and not having a brand, but we also made improvements to the shop as well,” he says. “The bigger shops benefit from it more than the smaller shops, but it’s so hard with the petrol market, you can really influence people coming through your door with your fuel prices, so all it takes is somebody down the road to just go crazy with their fuel price and it can really hurt us. If Tesco decides that they’re going to cut their price by 5p, that can really affect our shop and it could have nothing to do with what brand you’ve got, it’s just that those people would have come and got their petrol and their shopping and now they’re going somewhere else.”

Nevertheless, he believes that brands encourage trust and loyalty, but that it has also been vital for the sites to emphasise their independent ownership. “From a local point of view, it’s really important that they [customers] know that you’re not just another multinational that doesn’t care,” he says, adding that the company is passionate about being able to support local groups via Nisa’s Making A Difference Locally charity, which helps to bring the stores closer to their communities.

The stores also shout about their independence via social media and on site. “We’ve got signs up saying ‘independently operated and run’, and once they [customers] saw that it was the same staff that were running it before [the refits] that message got across quite quickly.”

With two Morrisons Dailys now up and running and nine successfully converted Nisa forecourt stores, is there time for some respite?

“I don’t just want to refurbish what we’ve got and then rest and go ‘we’ve done a great job there’ and pat ourselves on the back,” says Tom. “I think we need to start looking back at how we can improve those sites, whether that be car washes, whether that be new products in the shops or new technology.

The firm has already found electronic shelf edge labels (ESELs) to be an invaluable investment. “We’ve installed shelf edge labels in most of our estate now. The company that does that [SES-Imagotag] has a product called MarketHub, which is a back office system, which collates all of your reports and puts it into nice shiny graphs, which is great for me because I like snapshots of things.”

Tom also appreciates how much time the ESELs save staff. “The idea behind the labels is so that we can control more things from head office, so our promotions and our price changes and then it can allow the shops to focus more on making sure they’ve got stock on the shelves,” he says. “It’s a really labour intensive job going around changing all those [price] tickets all the time. And from a compliance point of view, they [ESELs] make it so you can’t be non-compliant. They look smart, your prices are always right, your staff have got less to do and we can control things centrally, so there’s no loser there.”

Pricewatch_Morrisons_Horsham_Self serve tills

Self service tills also have a role to play, he claims. “I don’t want to replace people because I think people are very important. We’ve put some self service tills into some of our shops, but we’ve certainly got no intention of reducing the number of staff. It’s just to try and reduce the queues for people that want to use that technology.”

In addition to investing in and improving its existing outlets, the group has a second standalone Morrisons Daily due to open in September in Tonbridge, Kent, and the company continues to look for new locations.

Tom is in his element. “I’m loving life, I’m really enjoying my job,” he says. “I love it when we introduce something new, I love seeing the positive changes. It’s never a dull day as there’s always something going on. I’m really excited as to where the business is going to go.”