Best Soft Drinks Outlet of the Year – supported by Coca-Cola European Partners
Interview with owner Natalie Lightfoot.
FOR years, soft drinks companies have made their money through perspiration – not the sweat on the brow kind – but the beads of condensation you’re sure to find on the side of bottles and cans across TV ads and outdoor posters. Cold sells.
In Baillieston, east Glasgow, the selling power of frosty temperatures is well understood by retailer Natalie Lightfoot, and her Londis store has something of a reputation locally for selling impulse soft drinks at TV advertising temperature.
“Before we had our refit, our store was known as the coldest in Baillieston. Literally you would walk in and it would be like an ice box in here,” she said.
“It was the fridges. One was on one side of the store and one was on the other and it was like an ice tunnel. Then we got air conditioning installed so now people are not cold, but the drinks are still freezing and that’s what everyone loves about it. If you’re going to drink ginger then you want it cold.”
There is definitely nothing lukewarm about Londis Solo Convenience, which Natalie runs alongside husband Martin, a fact that was recognised by Scottish Grocer awards judges, allowing the store to scoop the 2017 title for Best Soft Drinks Outlet of the Year.
What keeps soft drinks flying out the door at Londis Solo Convenience seems to be a consistent approach that extends beyond the chiller. Natalie certainly believes that while friendly customer service is the number one factor in her store’s success, being dependable has worked wonders.
“We’ve got the same people coming in to see us and they know there’s not one time they’ll come in and that soft drink that they pick up won’t be cold and I think that is under-rated,” she said.
“You can do whatever you want, you can say you’ll put in new product development or you know, do the best offers, it doesn’t matter if you’re not consistent. You’ve got to be consistent with what you’re doing: make sure your availability is good, make sure your range is good and make sure you’re going back and checking that something is selling.”
Before our refit our store was known as the coldest in Baillieston.
To keep everything cool at her store, Natalie made some changes to her chilled set-up in a refit in February 2016, introducing a new chiller which has given the store room to extend and experiment to find the right range without compromising on temperature.
“When we originally did the planogram for the refit, we had a lot more fresh in the fridge but all our two litre soft drink sales dropped because we’d kept them on the ambient shelf and only had Irn-Bru and Diet Irn-Bru in the fridge, but the water was selling really well,” said Natalie.
“So we increased the amount of water and decreased the amount of fresh. Our sandwiches and things were going fine, the ham was going fine, but we had too much space for ready meals and desserts, things that our store isn’t targeting.”
Knowing what you’re good at is never a bad thing in business and the team at Londis Solo Convenience is good at impulse and convenience, and the fast-paced nature of purchasing in store is possibly best illustrated by the BevTrac system which Coco-Cola installed in the soft drinks chiller.
An uncomplicated system, BevTrac sits inside the chiller with a bay for each SKU. When customers pick up their favourite soft drink, the slight angle of the BevTrac system makes for an effective slide with the bottle behind slotting snugly into its space at the front of shelf.
Natalie has been well impressed by the system since it was installed in 2016.
“If any retailer asks me about BevTrac I say ‘well why wouldn’t you?’.
“If you go into a store, even Boots or something like that, if you go in at lunchtime and then go in half an hour later and everything is at the back you can’t expect staff to go and either fill up or pull everything forward. They’re supposed to, but they’ve got other things to do because that’s their rush time. Whereas, BevTrac takes care of your rush so when it’s quieter you’ve got time to replenish it. You can still go and replenish it in exactly the same way you would before.”
BevTrac isn’t the only thing that’s helped Natalie to lift her soft drinks sales. The introduction of larger multipacks has also gone down well at the c-store. “We’ve made more money because we’ve introduced big multipacks of take-home drinks which we’d never had before. We’d only ever had a four pack and they were few and far between, but we committed to it and sales have gone up.”
Soft drinks sales were up by value and volume at Londis Solo Convenience in 2017, coming on the back of a successful 2016 when value sales rose despite a drop in volume – a dip Natalie attributed to the end of AG Barr’s 30p deposit scheme on Irn-Bru.
Bottle returns are still being made at the Baillieston store however, as there is a broad range of Dunns soft drinks, with the Blantyre-based firm still running its own deposit return scheme – which informs Natalie’s views on the Scottish Government’s proposed DRS scheme for all plastic bottles.
“We’re all for it because we already take the glass bottles, you can’t get much bigger than the glass bottles anyway. What I would say is it would be useful for stores like ours with a certain square footage, for us to have the option to be able to take the bottles to cash and carry or another central location. And if it had to be a vending machine then we’d want the council to agree to it being outside,” she said.