Fresh new look is tonic for village

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Award-winning retailer Holborn’s has been trading successfully in the Surrey town of Redhill since 1974, but it was only in 2005 that owner Dean Holborn took the decision to branch out into a second outlet in the nearby commuter village of South Nutfield.

The store was refitted a year later, but 11 years on was starting to look a bit tired, with the flooring going in a couple of places, refrigeration units in need of replacement and lighting long overdue for an upgrade to LED. “Once we started, it very quickly became a complete overhaul,” Holborn says.

Fortunately, with the Redhill store having undertaken its own successful refit in 2014, Holborn was able to draw on his experience of that process to create a new template for the 1,000sq ft Nufield outlet, making use of many of the same suppliers and contractors, including local shopfitting firm Moorhurst Interiors and Pastorfrigor for the new chiller cabinets.

Pop-up shop
With some building work required – including knocking down a small wall and creating a new food preparation kitchen in what used to be the back office – it was necessary to close the store for three-and-a-half weeks over the summer. “From experience, we knew that if things went wrong, the work might take longer than that,” says Holborn.

Again taking learnings from Redhill, where a pop-up shop outside the store had kept customers happy during the refit and retained a sizeable chunk of its business, the decision was taken to continue trading from a temporary area at the back of the Nutfield shop throughout, even keeping the store’s post office counter up and running for all but three days.

“People enjoyed the pop-up shop, but also enjoyed seeing the transformation on a daily basis,” says Holborn.

In the event, the work did run to schedule, and the store re-opened to a fanfare in mid-September. The result is a smart-looking, on-trend store in the “market fresh” style, incorporating wooden flooring and counter-tops, wooden crate-style shelving, wicker baskets for fresh produce and morning goods, hessian sacking, chalkboard signage, white porcelain tiles and grey paintwork, as well as display tables in the aisles for local products and seasonal events such as Halloween.

Holborn also took the opportunity to upgrade his in-store technology, with quieter, more efficient compressors running his chillers (much to the delight of the neighbours), LED lighting and digital security cameras inside and out.

Shopper missions

He worked closely with his wholesaler Palmer and Harvey to create a more ‘mission-led’ store layout, encouraging ‘meal-for-tonight’ purchases, for example, by ringing in various prepacked fresh meats from a local butcher and siting them in a chiller close to other meal components such as cooking sauces, pasta and rice.

Overall chiller space was increased by some 20% thanks to taller units with increased capacity, while frozen sales are up strongly following the move from an old-fashioned chest freezer to a “state-of-the-art” stand-up unit with glass doors, incorporating a premium range of Love Food frozen ready meals that are already attracting repeat purchasers.

A major driver for the revamp was the need to increase the size of the alcohol area in-store. Holborn sourced crate-style modular units from Link Shelving (a system he first came across when attending the annual Farm Shop & Deli Show) and these have been sited right inside the front door, alongside a refrigerated unit for beers, ciders, white wine and other chilled booze. More premium lines have been introduced, many of which feature their own neck-collars created especially for the retailer, featuring tasting notes and descriptions of the wines.

The alcohol fixture was also given a boost by the fact Holborn was able to remove his cigarette gantry, placing tobacco products in drawers under the counter and freeing the space behind the till for more premium alcohol and gifting lines, also using the crate-style shelving. Booze sales are already up by more than a quarter (28%) as a result, says Holborn.

Outside area

A further key feature of the new-look store is an outside seating area at the front, featuring a 4x4m branded parasol, four tables and 16 chairs and complete with its own heaters, lighting and free Wi-Fi. It is designed to encourage shoppers to dwell longer over their food-to-go purchases – which include hot Country Choice pasties and sausage rolls, Tchibo bean-to-cup coffee and filled baguettes made fresh in-store every day – and also to make the store more visible from the main road. “If it encourages people to linger longer, spend a bit more on coffee and food-to-go, that’s great. And if it highlights the store from the road, it’s doing a job both ways,” Holborn says.

He also hopes the seating area will become a community resource, with the local Garden Society using it for its annual plant sale, the British Legion set to use it for its poppy collection and the parish council for its fortnightly surgery. “We’ve just got a nicer area for them to sit and chat,” he says.

Flower trolley

Additional improvements include a new flower trolley outside, closure of the under-used open post office counter to make way for more chiller space (the store has retained its fortress position), and an enhanced area for fresh bread and morning goods, which now sit in a prime central position.

Holborn reckons the whole build cost him about £85,000 but has definitely been worth the money and effort. Feedback from customers has been excellent, with one even writing to the parish magazine to praise the changes as “nothing short of amazing, making it an absolute delight to shop there”.

The store is busier, too, and sales are up. “We’re seeing a little over 10% increase year on year at the moment,” says Holborn, “but I expect that to grow. It’s still early days.”

He adds: “It’s been a long summer of works, but we couldn’t be more pleased with the finished article. It’s a fantastic working environment for staff and it’s great for customers. It’s been worth the investment and the hard work that’s gone into it and now hopefully we will see the rewards.”

FACTFILE
Retailer’s name: Dean Holborn

Store name: Holborn’s

Location: South Nutfield, Surrey

Shop size: 1,000sq ft

Staff numbers: three full-time, eight part-time

Opening times: 6am to 7.30pm, seven days a week

David Shrimpton