How would you describe your store?
This store was a Spar across the road from us – we have the restaurant, opposite– owned by a gentleman who had been here 45 years. He retired and we did a deal. It needed a lot of work and we closed for three weeks at the end of March, re-opening as a Costcutter. They had much to do with the design of the shop but I dug my heels in and got it done the way I wanted. We opened up about three weeks ago and every week turnover’s going up.
What sort of trading area do you operate in?
We’re lucky because we’re on a main street down by the docks. The beauty of Berwick is that geography doesn’t quite work – word of mouth and reputation do. People will come from anywhere as long as you can provide them a service. There’s an Asda up the road and a Tesco round the corner, but the Co-op range gives us a fighting chance.
How long have you been a retailer?
The family and I moved to Berwick 23 years ago, and my parents had run a convenience store where I’d worked as a teenager. So it was almost coming round full circle to be honest. It feels good to be back after twenty years of doing property development and other businesses.
What is the best and the worst thing about the job?
At the moment it’s seeing the smiles on customers’ faces when they come into the store – it hadn’t changed in 45 years and the last refit was 20 years ago. So to come in and now see what we’ve done– their reaction makes it all worthwhile. I don’t complain about the hours. I knew that when I bought the store.
What is the biggest challenge in retailing?
Competing with the supermarkets. The margins are so low on the alcohol, they’re almost giving it away. It’s hard to compete against that. Certainly, Tesco has made a great attempt to try and close the convenience sector down by opening all these Tesco Expresses. But the reason why small stores do so well is that they’re family-run units. There’s more love and affection that goes into corner stores than having a manager run it.
Do you think retailers get the respect they deserve from the local community?
Yes. If you provide them with service, I think the customers are proud to use that, and to say it’s local. If you’re well-known in the community, like we are, it gives a bit more recognition and respect, too.
Do you find the suppliers’ category management plans work?
At the moment because, because I’ve only just come back into it in August, it’s probably 70/30. Costcutter has the experience, I don’t at the moment and my 30 per cent input is the eight months I’ve been there prior to the refit, looking at what we’re selling and what we’re doing. And they’re doing the rest.
What brands or categories do you find bring more footfall into your store?
The Co-op range is helping a lot. It also depends on the time of year. And food to go and fresh – there’s a new range we’ve put in and we can see an increase in sales every week now. To be honest, since the new layout was installed, we’ve seen an increase in everything.
How do you get up-to-date information on new products?
It all comes through Costcutter.
How much do your sales depend on seasons and weather?
The weather round here is four seasons in one day, is probably best way to describe it. We managed snow a couple weeks ago. But as soon as the sun’s out, you know your ice creams are going to go up, you pop and beer is going to go up. Because we are a tourist area, with the holiday camps being open now, footfall for the town increases by at least 40-45 and we see about 20 per cent increase in turnover. But even in the winter the store is doing well and steady, because of local trade.
Do you get the support you need from the local police force?
I think locally, yes, we do. Again, it helps to be known in town and having been here such a long time. Before I came into the store, I was told there was issues with some people helping themselves. I nipped that in the bud quite early, got hold of them and warned them.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to your local retailer?
You have to move on with the times. Evolve. We’ve evolved this store. We’re talking about bringing app systems in, and doing delivery service from the store as well. That’s something we did at Foulis – we were the first in town, about eight years ago.
What sections of the store work best for you and which are the most challenging?
We’re finding that since the refit every single item we have is selling. The basket spend is up and people are doing proper basket shopping, whereas before they didn’t. We’ve introduced a trolley system as well. We discussed whether to keep three aisles and keep them tight or whether to go with two aisles and keep them really wide.We went with a spacious option. But it would mean nothing without our fantastic staff.
What help/advice would you like to see most from manufacturers/suppliers?
Well, we’re fully delivered now, no cash and carry, and it’s all good. There were some supply problems during the lockdown but I’ve no complaints. Ordering everything online allows us to run the business in a modern way.
Do you ever have customers asking for products they have seen on TV that you know nothing about?
That’s probably thing of the past. Customers seem to be quite impressed with what we’ve got! Actually, the gluten-free range is something we never had in the store before, and we got it in because of customers asking – and it’s all selling very well.
If you were to give up your store tomorrow, what would you like to do?
I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do.