How did you get started in retailing?
It was always the plan. I left school at 16 to joined the family business in 2005 when we got the store in Forfar. It was very dated, we did it up and got a phenomenal response. From there it’s grown more and more. We had a refit in 2009 and doubled the size. Now, around 600 people walk through the door every day and 75% are regular customers.
What challenges have you faced?
Asda and B&M opened just after our second refit. Then Aldi opened. There’s only 15,000 people that live here, but we’ve got all the big chains except Morrisons and Sainsbury’s. We did take a hit, especially with B&M because the pricing is nothing you can match and it’s just along the road. So we readjusted the way we run the business. Before, I used to sell loads of groceries – it was huge. But we downsized from 15m to 9m and have given more over to snacks and food to go. Then last year we added in new fridges to boost soft drinks and chilled food. You have to keep on top of the times. You have to keep reinvesting or customers won’t keep coming back.
How optimistic do you feel about the convenience retail industry?
It’s come a long way. Retailers are a lot more educated than they used to be and are learning off of other retailers, which is good. If you look at what other people are doing – in the magazines, especially – you find some great information. In general, I think convenience retailing is coming back. Independent multiples I think, the guys with two or three stores, will grow. The tools are all there. The big companies, like Bestway, are willing to work with you if you work with them, if you put the effort in.
Which areas of retailing do you think present the best opportunities?
Our best categories are in the first two aisles. Juice, chilled food and snacks are where we make our money. But in the fridges what’s selling the best is filled rolls and stuff. That’s just where the whole market’s going. It’s all about food to go. We already sell a lot of sandwiches and we recently started small on the hot food side, selling about 30 hot items a day from a small unit on the counter. We’re looking to increase that soon.
What is your approach to social media?
I’m not on social media. That’s one of the next thing’s I’m going to be doing. I’m not good at running these things, so one of my customers is going to set it up and help manage it for me, so that will make it a bit easier. We need Facebook to tell people what’s happening in store. I’ve got friends that do it well. I’ve got Zapper in store, but it’s not that popular, because I’ve not boosted it. I’ve not told people about it. That’s what social media is for.
How do you try to differentiate yourself from the competition?
Me. I am what differentiates us from the competition. I’m not boasting that I’m great. It’s just about how you are with people, how you talk to people, how you help them. I’d say I know 80% of our customers by first name and people like the personalised touch. On the counter, it’s almost always family. That’s nothing to do with money or trust. It’s about the banter at the till-point with customers, the upselling. On the days when none of the family are on the till, you do notice a wee dip in sales.
What areas do you think require more work in your store?
My e-cigarettes require work. I’ve just partnered up with Liberty Flights to have a customised wing made next to the gantry that will really give us a boost. People want a range. I sell a fair few. Vivid is my bestseller. I can sell about 12 cases of Vivid a week, which is quite good. But I’ve not got a good value brand, which is why I’ve hooked up with Liberty Flights. We’ve got a small unit at the till and have sold a couple, but until you get a proper display you won’t get the sales you should. That’s where I’m really lacking right now. And there’s money to be made there.
What’s your experience of retail crime?
In all the years we’ve been here, we’ve never called the police for ourselves. We’ve called them for customers, but anything in-store we’ve always tried to deal with ourselves. We don’t sell alcohol in any of our stores, which cuts out a lot of the trouble. Aside from that it’s just the odd shoplifter. We give them one chance, if they do it again, they’re out for life. That’s enough to deter them.
What are your thoughts on the deposit return scheme?
I’m familiar with it. I think it would be good. My sister lives in Norway, where they already do it, and she said it’s something that could be good because it does drive a bit of loyalty, with people coming back to the shop to deposit their bottle and get their money back.
How has the card payment surcharges ban affected you?
We had a surcharge of 50p. So fine, they’ve done away with that, and it’s good for customers, but the banks need to look at cutting down the charges for business. That’s a big issue for us. In the last month I’ve paid about £300 in bank charges I wouldn’t have had before. We’ve got a minimum spend of £5 now.
What are your future plans?
The aim for next year is to open another store, quite a big one, here in Forfar, and try a few new things with a different clientele. Long term, we’d like to continue opening new stores, getting them to a good place and selling them on. But we’ll never sell our stores in Forfar and Dundee. They’re here to stay.
We’re looking for new generation retailers and new ideas all across Scotland. If you’d like to take part or want to recommend another retailer just contact John on 0141 567 6032