What were your top priorities when tackling the refit?
The shop’s been here almost 40 years and hadn’t had a proper refit in that time. What I really wanted was to get the wow factor with customers. I wanted an instant impact and shock. We didn’t quite get that because we stayed open and they saw it develop. We didn’t get the surprise, but they were still really impressed. It’s an A-Z refit with a new floor, chillers, energy-efficient lighting, a new counter and new entrances. We planned it for months.
The design was myself and my friend Zahid. We took ideas from various people and then we sat down and decided on the layout and colour scheme.
Looking back on the project, do you feel you achieved all your aims?
There are still some little finishing touches we need to do. Being independent, it’s a lot to take on. The merchandising side of things has taken longer than I anticipated. It’s something that we just bashed on with ourselves, but we’re getting there. I wanted to take the cigarette gantry out and have tobacco under the counter, but in the end we weren’t left with enough space. But hopefully come May, when the new laws come into place, I’ll be able to fit them all in there and use the gantry space to increase spirits and for e-cigs. I think e-cigarettes are what a lot of people are moving on to. It’s the way forward.
Which categories do you find offer the most opportunity?
Food to go is one. With the refit we’ve introduced food to go to the shop for the first time. We’ve got a hot coffee machine and a bakery counter from Stuart’s bakers offering hot pies and pastries. We really weren’t sure how that would go, so we decided to start off with something quite small, but it’s been a big success. If I’d know it would be so good I’d have bought a bigger unit, or maybe two units. Now I want to expand the food-to-go range. I’m going to get a grill so we can offer bacon and sausage rolls and add a sandwich unit as well. I think if you get your e-cigs display right that could be something too. We’ve got a basic display with the liquids, but I think you need to offer a full range to get the most out of it. I thought of offering a key cutting service at one point. We still could, but the priority is to get food to go properly up and running.
Which areas of your store do you feel require more work?
I’m looking for a local fruit and veg supplier. That’s something I need to focus on. I’m anticipating a lot of wastage, but it’s the kind of thing I think you need to persevere with. I need someone who can deliver to me. I don’t have time to be going out to cash & carries to keep it stocked. I doubled my chilled range during the refit, but want to get it to the point where people feel confident that they can come here looking to find everything they need for a meal and we’ll definitely have it.
What technological tools do you find useful in your business?
I updated the PayPoint machine during the refit and got a free-to-use cash machine as well. I’ve just started a Facebook page (Sharifs Touchshop). I’ve not really been focussed on it, but I’m going to do that properly. Get a proper business page and have new promotions every day. I’m planning a proper open day with something for the kids and a buffet along with some prize draws. I’ll promote it all on Facebook and that will be a way of saying “here I am”. The thing is, I’ve not done any advertising of the shop. That’s my next step now, to go on social media and get my leaflets out. We’ll go to the industrial estates and offer them a service to deliver hot lunches. The next step after that is online deliveries, which we’ll be launching soon through GrocerOnline. We’re hoping it’s the beginning of something big.
What challenges have you faced since taking control of the business?
It’s all been a challenge. One Stop are pressing ahead with plans to open a store just up the road. They’ve been working on it for a few months, but we only found out about it just before the refit was due to start. I’m not sure what will happen when they open. I’ve been listening to other retailers who have been in similar situations. They’re saying we might have a dip in sales for the first few months, but if we can keep our offers going and compete with them on price then we can bring the levels back up. It’s going to be an interesting year ahead.
How do you differentiate your store from competitors?
I think we have a real community feel here. We know all the locals. My dad’s very well respected, which has made it easier for me to take the business on. He’s retired and taking it easy now, but he’ll still pop in to have a wee blether. We both know everyone and I would like to help the community a bit more, get involved with the school and local charities. I want to build that up. Aside from that we’ve just got to stay competitive.
How optimistic do you feel about the future of convenience retailing?
There was an instant uptick in sales following the refit, so that’s a promising start. We’ve been slowly increasing since then, which is good, but I don’t know if One Stop opening will put a stop to that. But I’m not really thinking about them. I’m concentrating on what I’m doing and staying positive.