Line of Sight

Since assuming the job in January 2014, Londis Craigmillar manager Allan Robertson has been working hard to make the grocery side of the store work in tandem with its post office and pharmacy, and his tactics are beginning to pay off.

by Kevin Scott

There’s been a lot of talk recently about diversification in convenience retailing. It is demonstrably evident that by adding auxiliary services to a store, sales grow. Londis Craigmillar is a store that isn’t new to this game, having opened eight years ago with both a post office and a fairly huge pharmacy inside the store. Such is the size of the store, this still leaves just under 3,000 sq ft of trading space.

The store went through a major change at the turn of the year when Allan Robertson was appointed manager. The store is owned by pharmacist Barrie Dear, and is one of six in his estate. With that in mind it is essential for Barrie – who is more pharmacist than retailer – to ensure he has good managers in place. In Allan, it would seem he’s found one. Just six months after he took over, the shop was named Crisps & Snacks Retailer of the Year at the SLR Rewards.

Allan came to the store with 25 years’ retail experience, having moved to East Lothian from Northumberland when Alldays was acquired by the Co-op.
“I was running a community shop in Orminston when I saw that this shop was looking for a manager. I applied, had a good chat with Barrie, and started work here eight months ago,” says Allan.

He immediately set about making his mark on the store, working with Londis to rearrange many of the categories, and shift focus onto promotions and £1 bays. It’s an interesting development and much in line with the current philosophy of shopper interruption. “I’d never worked in a store with a pharmacy before, so we have a lot of customers who come in purely to pick up prescriptions. Other who only used the post office. In my first few weeks I just watched the traffic of the store and saw there was a massive opportunity to better engage with these people who weren’t spending any money.”
This meant increasing the shelf space given over to promotions and value lines, improving the fresh and chilled offer, increasing the food to go options, and reducing the space on categories like grocery.
The results were almost instant. “I learned a lot from the Co-op. There it’s all about planograms, planograms, planograms and that had slipped a little in the store. We made a lot of changes but sales are well up. It’s been a bit of increased basket spend and a bit of new customers.”
That in itself is impressive. A Tesco Express opened four years ago just a couple of doors down, while a little further along the road sits a Lidl. There are also three other convenience stores with a few minites’ walk. Competition, to say the least, is brisk.

“In my first few weeks I just watched the traffic of the store and saw there was a massive opportunity to better engage with these people who weren’t spending any money.”

Allan Robertson, Manager

Craigmillar is a deprived area of Edinburgh and so winning the custom of shoppers on tight budgets when Tesco and a discounter are in your path is no mean feat.

“We can never compete with Lidl on price, so we’ll never try to. What we can offer is great value, great promotions and great customer service.”
To indicate how well that’s gone, when Tesco opened the store lost £10,000 a week in revenue. Since he took over, Allan has increased sales by around £3,000 a week. “We’re taking that from somewhere,” he says.

One example of the changes was reducing the grocery section by eight metres and extending the £1 area. “We had four facings of beans next to four facings of spaghetti. There was no need. Since reducing that space grocery sales have actually gone up and we’ve been able to make the most of the £1 offers from Londis.”

Allan has cleverly implemented these sections in the high traffic areas leading to the post office and pharmacy. “People are waiting in queues and they’re surrounded by eye-catching promotions,” he says.
In such a short period of time, Allan has worked wonders with the shop, and it’s one that retailers would do well to visit. It may not be brand-spanking new and Allan would admit that parts of the store could be doing with being upgraded, but what is worth seeing is the way Allan has made the most of the space.
His plan to watch customers before implementing changes is inspired, and the careful use of point of sale reinforces the offers. The store caters as well for its target market as any store does: among the top selling SKUs are multi-packs of crisps and biscuits from the Londis value range. Dumpbins have been carefully utilised at till spaces; in fact, wherever you are in the store your eyes can’t help but wander towards a deal, yet the execution remains subtle.
“There’s more to be done,” says Allan, who will next turn his attention to improving food to go and the chilled offer. “It’s constant improvement. I like to do a range review every six to eight weeks to fine tune the range. We’ve got so much potential here because it’s a cracking-sized store.”
Working with suppliers too has had its benefits. Improving the Country Choice bake-off offering has seen sales in that area swell by over 200%, while implementing Coca-Cola Enterprises BevTrac system has seen soft drinks sales grow 63%.

New staff have joined the shop as some were replaced and Allan is now very much looking forward to seeing what the rest of the year and 2015 brings – more SLR Awards being one of his main targets. “My wife and I came along for the night and I honestly didn’t expect to win. As soon as we got back the next day we came in to tell the staff. They were really buzzing, which is great. We can’t wait until the application forms come out for next year.”

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