Partners in Action: Opening up to new possibilities

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Pratik Sampat’s small convenience store sits just yards from the entrance to a busy commuter station in south-east London. As such, it enjoys fantastic passing trade, as well as drawing in regular custom from the 3,000 or so ‘chimney pots’ in the local area.

“I would give my right arm to have a shop that close to a station,” says fellow retailer Dean Holborn, who is visiting the store as part of the ongoing Partners in Action initiative being run by Independent Retail News in association with Partners for Growth, the unbiased category improvement scheme from manufacturer Unilever.

Basket shoppers
Despite its location, Sampat admits the 800sq ft Premier Express store is not realising its full potential, even though it is turning over a comfortable £15,000 a week. A big chunk of those sales (about 40%) come from alcohol and the shop boasts an extensive range of beers, wines and spirits, including premium wines and craft beers.

But Sampat concedes that, in the store as a whole, things have become a bit stale and no longer necessarily meet the requirements of residents in an area (Sydenham and Penge) that has become increasingly affluent since he took over the shop six years ago. “We used to get people coming in and filling up baskets during the day, but not any more,” he says.

Shop window
The first recommendation from Holborn and fellow mentor Kay Patel is to smarten up the frontage in order to communicate the message to passers-by that the store is likely to stock what they need. Sampat currently displays half a dozen plastic crates of fresh produce out front, but the mentors’ suggestions included spending £500 on a purpose-built display and initial stock to kick-start a more comprehensive fresh offer. “If [customers] see the fresh produce, they are more likely to carry on inside,” Holborn says.

Patel cautions that Sampat will have to be prepared for considerable wastage. “In one of my stores,” he says, “I allow up to 50% wastage on fresh, because as long as I can cover my costs, it’s still bringing people in.” Further suggestions for the front of store include fresh flowers, new LED lighting to highlight the offer and even a change of signage to give a more premium feel. This could involve a solution such as upgrading to Booker’s new, grey Premier fascia. “At the moment, he’s not selling his offering,” says Holborn.

Store layout
The main recommendation from the mentors, however, involved the layout of the inside of the store, which is long and thin but has a wider area at the front, dominated by the alcohol offer along the left-hand wall. This wider area is made cramped by the fact it has a run of shelving down the middle, with a gondola end at the front creating a pinch-point for customers. Several branded fridges and two old, bulky Walkers stands on the other end of the run only add to the clutter.

Patel and Holborn advised “opening up” the store by removing the middle run and add-on units, which would allow shoppers to step back and get a better view of the products on offer. “The parasite units have become parasites!” Patel said. “He needs to take all of them out. The store is far too cramped and some of those secondary displays are very tired. Take it out and use that space to help people navigate the store better.”

Building work
Another way forward would be to open up the back of the store even more by removing the small wall that breaks up the space half way in – but this would involve spending tens of thousands of pounds on building work and shutting the store for four weeks, according to Sampat.

The mentors also suggested the store be arranged to tap into key shopper missions for the store, which were identified as ‘big night in’, ‘meal for tonight’ and ‘breakfast on-the-go’, as well as the gifting occasion.

Further suggestions in-store included drastically cutting down the range by concentrating on the best sellers, and introducing fresh meat to encourage bigger basket shops than the current average spend of £5.50.

Reasons to visit
Stocking more on-trend products such as protein shakes and snacks, premium gins and £1 bags of confectionery could help boost sales and margins, while installing a small ramp outside would make the shop more accessible to elderly customers and mums with pushchairs especially.

Holborn strongly recommended a small bake-off operation producing fresh bread and morning goods, while another option is for Sampat to add a Post Office to the newsagents he owns two doors down, creating another compelling reason for consumers to visit the small parade of shops on which the store is located.

For more information and advice, go to: partnersforgrowth.unilever.com