It all begins with people…

Stocking shelves in Woodlands Local

As we begin our revolution at Woodlands Local, we’ve decided to start with the most important asset the business has: its people.

Like so many clichés, the old one about retail being a people business has become a cliché because it’s true. So when we decided recently to rip the business up and start again we decided to start with our people – and that means one thing: training.

Since we took the store over we have had a reasonably settled core team, although we’ve been through probably 30 peripheral part-time staff over that period who haven’t lasted for a variety of the usual reasons. Staffing remains the number one challenge in the business. But while having a strong core team is beneficial in many ways, it has also created its own problems as we try to harmonise procedures across the business.

When staff have been there a long time, they know how they do things and they want to keep doing them that way, even if it’s crystal clear that the procedures were far from optimal, and in some cases downright counter-productive. Change invariably means friction and the period since our new manager came in has been a difficult one with several key staff finding the process of change difficult, exacerbated by the usual problems surrounding a new boss.

Unfortunately, that has meant yet more staff upheaval but we now have a solid team that gets on well, works well together and is willing to embrace the changes we are implementing at the store. The downside is that this core team is now too small to cover the 210 or so working hours we require every week, so the process of recruitment is back in full swing.

Recruitment has never been easy at the store and I don’t anticipate this wave to be straightforward either – but we are turning this problem into an opportunity by using the influx of new staff as a great excuse to implement our new procedures from day one. The rules will now be handed down from the management and all staff will be required to comply. This should wash away in one go the many sets of slightly different procedures that each individual current staff member currently operates.

We were very conscious that we would require some external input into that process and have engaged further with Paisley-based Bolt Learning to make use of their exceptional online e-learning solutions. I met up with Tom Fender and Katie Jenkins of Bolt last month to begin the implementation process – and was frankly very impressed with what they already have in place. The modules available already contain a mass of great procedures that basically save our management team from having to draw up procedures from scratch across a number of key subjects such as health and safety, food hygiene, fire safety, age-related sales, customer service and upselling skills.

All members of staff, including those already trained, will be required to complete these modules online and present their completion certificates for presentation in the store. We are using this model as an initiation pack for new starts to ensure they hit the ground running without so much on-the-job learning required. The Bolt solution also provides some independent proof of our commitment to best practice and due diligence.

We are currently in the process of checking each of these modules out to ensure they fit our requirements precisely, or whether they may require minor tweaks to tailor them specifically to our unique set of circumstances in the store.


As part of our revolution, we are planning to clear every shelf in the store and start again with a complete overhaul of every category. We shall first establish whether each category has the right amount of space, as dictated by historic sales, and will then also consider whether each category is sited in the right location in-store. We are also examining our use of special areas such as promo and themed bays, like big night in.

To help with this process, we invited Filshill’s new Retail Sales Director Craig Brown along to the store last month for his thoughts. Craig spent an hour with us and gave us some really useful immediate feedback but has agreed to produce a set of anonymised sales data for all of the stores in the Falkirk area. This should help establish any big-selling lines in the area that we may be missing in our store. We can then combine that with our own Epos data to establish a solid range of strong rate-of-sales lines – and ditch the under-performers. Craig has also agreed to have one of his development managers get involved in the process of re-laying the whole store. This sort of assistance is invaluable to us.

Chill challenge

We also spoke to Craig about making use of Filshill’s access to the Nisa chilled range, something we had been interested in a couple of years back. At that point we couldn’t be 100% sure of being able to meet Nisa’s minimum drop of 100 cases a week and had hoped that the Filshill deal would allow us a back door in. Unfortunately, the 100 case rule still applies, even when buying centrally through Filshill, and we are still not sure that we would require 100 cases a week, every week in life. (There is a penalty of £100 for failing to hit the minimum order.) So it’s a frustrating lack of progress on that front, which is disappointing as we are very keen to grow our fresh and chilled sales but we are obviously nervous about entering a long- term commitment based on predicted sales growth. If the growth doesn’t materialise, the penalties surely will.

We currently buy chilled through Costcutter and the range is good, but we have had mixed success with key areas like ready meals and fresh meat. Filshill has also upped its game in fresh with the launch of a relatively new chilled service via Lomond. The range is quite basic but we are trying a few lines here and there to see how our customers respond. There’s no question that getting chilled right in a smallish store is a really tough nut to crack with most wholesalers set up for either a huge range or a tiny one. We lie somewhere in the middle and are caught between two stools. More thought and work is required.

Hello EHO

Last month also saw a visit from our Environmental Health Officer, who took great pleasure in going through the business with a fine-tooth comb. The report was as expected; a few issues to deal with – several of them dealt with during the visit – but nothing that causes us any concern. It was also a useful exercise purely for the team to have a short, sharp reminder that hygiene practices are paramount in a business like ours that sells hot and cold foods to go.

The only issue of any concern was a requirement to replace a part of the floor behind the counter which had been damaged – but we’ve decided to do things properly and simply replace the whole floor.

We have also decided that the store manager and I will attend a formal Cooksafe training session to ensure that we are as well trained as we can possibly be. If only there were a few more hours in every day…