Premium push is profitable move

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It was music to the ears of Simon Lawrence when he heard Budgens director Mike Baker tell a meeting of independent retailers that the symbol group had “changed its ways” since being acquired by Booker.

Lawrence, who runs three stores in Norfolk with his brother Andrew, says Budgens sounded “completely different” from the way it had been run under Musgrave, when retailers had to place 95% of their orders with the symbol
group.

Booker, Baker told the retailers, took a more flexible approach that would allow its Budgens retailers to source more local food and drink products and to go elsewhere for premium and other products not stocked by the wholesaler. “So, the discussions fell on fertile ground,” says Lawrence.

Lawrence has made the most of this flexible policy since he switched the fascia of his 1,600sq ft Sheringham Service Station forecourt store on £80,000 investment in store refurbishment the main coastal road just outside Sheringham from Spar to Budgens in April of this year. The forecourt has been operated by the Lawrence family for 19 years.

“If the demographics work, it is no longer about [store size], it’s about whether we can put an offer in. The Budgens offer is quite comprehensive and I was concerned about squeezing a quart into a pint pot,” he says. “But it
looks fantastic and we are really pleased with the result.

“Isn’t it great to have a nice looking store and do what we are doing here? The support we have had has been pretty good. It has been difficult at times. It’s good to get a different pair of eyes [to look at the store],” says Lawrence.

Major problem

The seaside town of Sheringham fought a 10-year long battle to keep out a large Tesco supermarket, but to no avail, and its opening did have an impact on retailers in the area, with shoppers attracted by its free car parking, among other things. The opening prompted Lawrence to review how he could develop his own store. “We had a major problem of a nice-looking Tesco [about a mile away] and it’s right in the middle of chimney pots,” he says.

When he decided to become a Budgens retailer, he invested about £80,000 in refurbishing the store, giving it a woodcut finish, as well as a new floor and extra refrigeration. “Budgens is all about its fresh choice, so we really needed to do that.”

The Budgens outlet is on the main road to the coast and sales, he says, “go bonkers” in the summer and increase by 50% to 60% as the area is a popular destination for tourists and people with second homes. “In the summer, it’s very busy.”

Petrol, says Lawrence, is still a major attraction for both passing motorists and local people, but since taking on the Budgens fascia the profit contribution has flipped, with 60% now coming from the shop and 40% from the fuel.

“We are about sensible pricing, about products,” he says. “It’s interesting to see how in this small store, we have been able to fit in everything we wanted to get in.”

Premium wines

The flexibility offered by Budgens has allowed Lawrence to link up with the Laithwaite’s specialist wine company to offer more premium wines, which have proved popular with visitors staying in the area. “It works really well with us and gives us a nice high-end look to our wine offer.”

The Laithwaite’s wine range mainly retails at £10-plus and makes up about 10% of the store’s wine offer. The red wines are merchandised in wooden boxes and the white wines are stored in the drinks chiller.

The best-selling wines in-store are still the brands bought from Booker, including Gallo Family Vineyards, Casillero del Diablo and the I Heart Wine range. A big seller is the Secretary Bird brand, available in Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot variants, which is regularly promoted on a half-price £5.49 offer.

The outlet had two Cook freezers when it was a Spar store and Lawrence is still offering the company’s upmarket frozen ready meals to his customers. “It wasn’t an issue for Budgens as they said ‘we know it works very well’. It was a sensible, rational conversation. It works well with Laithwaite’s. It gives us that difference.”

Local products

Lawrence has also been able to stock more local products, including Norfolk Gingers, the Real Norfolk Cake Company range, Adnams Copper House Gin, Ely Gin and bottled beers from the local Wolf Brewery (in Attleborough) and Beeston Brewery (in King’s Lynn).

There is also a stand selling local food under the East Anglia Best Local Products banner, including Norfolk Wherrymans Ketchup, Norfolk jams and marmalades and Norfolk Fudge Company products.

The forecourt store has also enjoyed an uplift in its fresh meat sales, helped by the price-marked packs of Booker’s Farm Fresh range. “We do use a local supplier as well. We do sell a reasonable amount [of fresh meat], substantially more than we did before,” says Lawrence.

Lawrence receives three multi-temperature deliveries a week from Booker. “You are not looking at a store which is pulling up trees. It’s a progression. We are 10% to 12% up from where we were [before moving to Budgens], which is the proof of the pudding for a convenience store,” he says.

Promotional ends

The promotional ends are positioned at the front of the store and Lawrence says he follows the regular Budgens promotions, as well as running deals associated with the Costa Express takeaway coffee machine, such as a croissant and a coffee for a set price.

The store also sells hot food, such as bacon and sausage baps and sausage rolls for the morning trade, while the bake-off operation run in conjunction with Country Choice is yielding positive results. “It’s fantastic for us. We had a huge bread range, but it’s given us a little extra,” he says.

Lawrence, who plans to move one of his other Norfolk stores to Budgens early next year, is also keen to build his links with the local community.

“We are trying to do more on the marketing side as well,” says Lawrence.

“It isn’t just about traditional things like leaflets. We sponsor the local cricket ground and the local theatre. We realise we need to be much more a part of the community.”

FACTFILE

Retailer’s name: Simon Lawrence
Store name: Sheringham Service Station, Budgens
Location: Sheringham, Norfolk
Shop size: 1,600sq ft
Opening times: 6.30pm to 10pm, seven days a week

Mike Dennis