Me and My Store: Alan Kasch, Costcutter, Fernhill Heath

Being a long-time resident of his large village just outside Worcester means that Alan Kasch has found a welcome place at the heart of his community – and his retired father still helps out

Alan Kasch

How would you describe your store?

We are a village store just outside of Worcester, and most of the staff have been here a long time. The younger ones are all people who’ve grown up here and went to the local school. We’re a Costcutter, of about 1000 square feet, with a post office and a bakery, a terrifically important thing that we put in 20 years ago.

What sort of trading area do you operate in?

It’s a big village with two local pubs run by local people, a workingmen’s club, a hairdresser and a school, and we do a lot of work with the school. There is a big Lidl, a big Sainsbury and two Marks & Spencers all within a mile of me. There was a Spar across the road whose owner advised me to retire when he set up, but we’ve seen them off!

How long have you been a retailer?

It’ll be 41 years in July. It was my dad at first, and he still delivers a few papers now even though he’s 87. He delivered to the old folks’ home and the police station this morning. When we bought it, it was a big hut on the front of our area. Within two years, we built the current building.

What is the best and the worst thing about the job?

The margins mean that I don’t have a day off. I’ve probably had 10 days off in the last five years, where I haven’t worked at least 10 or 12 hours. When the Spar and Subway opened over the road, it didn’t close our business, but it took away a holiday. I can see independent retailers just disappearing if we’re not careful. The best thing is the people. It’s fantastic talking to people and most are very supportive.

What is the biggest challenge in retailing?

Squeezed margins, of course, but also, as the village has expanded we’ve got more city people who didn’t grow up here, and don’t support the local shop as much – a lot of online ordering or they’ll just go to Tesco Express. But they have to come to me for the post office, and once you talk to them, you can work on them!

Do you think retailers get the respect they deserve from the local community?

These are obviously people who appreciate what you are doing, and it helps doing this job if you’re a people person. The local people are fantastic and we do a lot of work with the local school, a lot of work with the village fete and our excellent local parish council – and I feel very appreciated. I won the Worcester Man of the Year Award sponsored by Worcester Rugby Club last November. You don’t do all this for the awards but it’s very nice to be recognised.

Do you find the suppliers’ category management plans work?

Yes, I think you need a starting point in whatever you are doing. You need to make sure you’ve got the 20 best-selling biscuits or confectionery bars or whatever. If I was in a council estate I might want more Costcutter-branded lines, but as I’m in a fairly affluent area I’ve got to have brands. and plans can help with all that.

What brands or categories do you find bring more footfall into your store?

Obviously alcohol is hugely important, there’s no two ways about that. Your everyday items such as milk and bread are important. But we do very well on traditional things: soft drinks, chocolate and alcohol.

How do you get up to date information on new products?

The trade press – your publication with the Must Stock pages. We get reps visit from all the major confectionery and tobacco manufacturers. McVitie’s come to me and all the drinks manufacturers too, so you talk to them as well and you read all your publications.

How much do your sales depend on seasons and weather?

We sell more the ice cream and soft drinks when it’s hot, of course. People have all got nice houses and gardens right here, so in the summer it’s a big barbecue area. Also, if you get a couple of snow days, you’re really busy when people don’t go anywhere.Then suddenly Bake Off hot sausage rolls, pies, patties, that sort of thing, go mad!

Then when it goes hard, the older folks don’t come out and people have managed to get back to work it goes quiet – but you get an initial boost.

Do you get the support you need from the local police force?

Yes, they’re very good. We’re West Mercia and we’ve got a local lady, Andrea, and she is great: if you ring her, she’s there, mate!

What is the best piece of advice you would give to your local retailer?

Talk to people! It’s an absolutely essential thing, and you’ll soon work out if somebody’s mother’s died, or they’ve got the sack or something awful has happened. Communicating with the customer is vital, more than price or social media.  If you’ve got a miserable bugger behind the counter, or the staff come across as rude or unhelpful, you’re never going to win.

What sections of the store work best for you and which are the most challenging?

As I say, alcohol and everyday goods are important because they’re the ones that people come for in between supermarket trips. Chilled is hard: we’re not big enough to offer young professionals a full meal option every night. We just need that extra 500 square feet for that, and if you’re going to do chilled, you’ve got to do it – I’ve tried it and we’ve lost money because we are just not big enough.

What help/advice would you like to see most from manufacturers/suppliers?

We need a conversation about things like margins. Also, manufacturers sometimes just do what they want to do, really pushing stuff that we’ve all tried but doesn’t work. The reps tell them they do not sell, but the bosses don’t listen– although it would benefit their businesses if they listened to us more.

Do you ever have customers asking for products they have seen on TV that you know nothing about?

Not often because I read your Must Stocks! But if a customer does want something I haven’t got, I can always order it.

If you were to give up your store tomorrow, what would you like to do?

Well, I wouldn’t want to do nothing. I would retire gradually, like my father! But I was sports mad and played a lot of cricket and rugby, and I think I would like to combine sports and travel, watching big matches around the world, Australia for the Ashes and so on.