Tell us the history of your store.
We were running a forecourt in Coulsdon, Surrey for many years. About five years ago we bought an old store in Epsom. It is just under 3000 sq ft. We started from scratch with a new building, a new premises. It wasn't 100% finished when we took over. Costcutter advised us and with the experience we had we set it up. From day one it was successful. One year later we won a Retail Industry award for best drink retailer. A lot of articles have been written about us. We have had a tremendous amount of support from the local community for us to open the store there. We have the biggest Sainsbury's in the area only a stone's throw away from our store. Two multiples have opened convenience stores within 1.5 miles of us. Our trade is still fine. We enjoy retailing, we like the customer service, we have a nice team of people working for us. We have a manager – she was somebody who came as a Saturday girl. She liked retail so much she didn't go to university, she stayed with us. We have 12 staff. It is quite interesting with Palmer & Harvey and Costcutter getting together. I think they had some teething problems in the beginning but it is getting better day by day. We find our margins are better and from that we can get better prices for our customers. We can offer better deals than the multiples. We offer 20% off our big range of chilled and fresh food. We also have an off-licence, in-store bakery, food to go, coffee. We are a big supermarket squeezed into a smaller area. We have a 24 hour cash machine so we almost have everything. We use a lot of social media, we put our offers on Twitter. Costcutter has been very good. We have been with them for over 15 years. They have been a great support in our store development. After five years we are refurbishing the store again. We want to put in an artisan bakery and stock local produce.
What sort of trading area do you operate in?
We have a mixed demography. We have quite a lot of elderly customers. Sometimes people phone in their orders and we help them. We don't normally do home delivery but if someone has specific needs they can phone us and we can oblige. We have a couple of schools and we have young families. We work with the local community and have given nearly £3,000. Costcutter organised a fundraising system where for every item we sell they put away a couple of pence for charity. Up to last year, when Costcutter was with Nisa, they had that system. We collected the money and gave it to a local school, which they were very happy about.
Do you think retailers get the respect they deserve from the local community?
I think so because people appreciate the hours we operate – little things like opening in the morning. We open at 7 and we have a queue of about five or six people who are waiting for their newspapers. People appreciate that we are there seven days a week. People don't like to travel too far to get their essentials. Shopping patterns are changing. It is not like the old days where people used to buy £200 or £300 of shopping once a week. Now they only buy what they need, they buy smaller amounts more often. They are always looking for convenience stores so they appreciate our shop. In our store we have more respect than we have negative comments, which is quite unusual. In the forecourt we had a fair amount of problems. Local people have said our shop is the best thing that has happened to the area, which is very nice. Property prices have gone up. People move to the area and they see they have a nice store. We have a traditional butchers next door. So the area is self-sufficient.
Do you find the suppliers’ category management plans work?
Yes, the Heineken Star Retailer scheme has helped us achieve great uplift in sales. We have dedicated 35-40% of our store space to beers and wines. Their principles are good. I have signed up with a few others. I think they know what they are doing, they know what people in the industry want, what sells. That will cut out the dead space.
How do you get up to date information on new products?
Very often through Costcutter mailings and through trade magazines like Asian Trader.
What are your views on the government pushing through the tobacco display ban and plain packaging?
I think it will not work. For us it will be very difficult in terms of merchandising and the security of the product. We covered up our tobacco display long before it became law. We haven't seen any decrease in sales at all. But the problem with plain packaging is we are going to get loads of counterfeit cigarettes. Without the recognised branding on the packet we won't be able to say if it is genuine product or not. The government has opened the doors for criminals to produce illicit tobacco and sell them. We are worried we won't know where packs have come from. We don't know if plain packaging will work. People will still smoke. Plain packaging will just bring another layer of bureaucracy to the retailers.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to your local retailer?
Keep the standards high. If the is store clean and well organised people will shop. If the store is shoddy, shabby and dirty with out of date food people won't go there. Be friendly. You have to give people what they want. The pricing should be reasonable. There is a real opportunity for convenience stores because they run a better service than the multiples. Convenience stores have a great advantage. A lot of people visit the convenience store more than they see their own family. I see a lot of people every day who don't see their son or daughter who don't live with them. For the elderly we are a very important part of the community. We get involved in a lot of charity events. It is very interesting being retailers because we meet so many different people.
What sections of the store work best for you and which are the most challenging?
Fresh produce like fruit and veg and baked bread is the most challenging section because we have to maintain standards. We do a good turnover on fresh but to maintain it is a challenge. Fresh produce has to be refilled all the time. Any time the customer wants it we can't say we don't have it. Our sales of fresh fruit and vegetables are around £50 to £100 a week. That is quite a high amount for a 3000 sq ft store. We have a dedicated chiller for fruit and veg. Our bake-off section sells around £1500 a week. So the two sections have to be in absolutely top condition all the time. We bake all day. The products can only be kept for three hours. We have a 5 from the Food Standard Agency. Our off-licence works very well. We have a lot of craft beer and wine from all over the world supplied by Costcutter and Palmer & Harvey. Alcohol makes up 17% of the whole shop's sales. We are turning over around £50,000 a week which is good for 3000 sq ft.
Do you ever have customers asking for products they have seen on TV that you know nothing about?
That doesn't happen a lot because we always get anything new that comes on the market through Costcutter.
If you were to give up your store tomorrow, what would you like to do?
We would like to go travelling and take more holidays. With retail, it is hard to get two weeks off in a year.