Practising what we preach

Antony Begley

I make no apologies for taking our own Woodlands Local store in Falkirk as the subject of this month’s comment. When we initially set out on our epic adventure as the first magazine in the world to buy a convenience store, we knew that we would be testing ourselves to the max. And it turns out that we have indeed been tested to the max on countless occasions. Running a convenience store is not for the faint hearted, as you well know.

When we bought the store we knew that we would have to practice what we preached in SLR. It’s all very well being a journalist and telling readers how to run their business. It’s an entirely different matter to actually run a convenience store and attempt to take your own advice, the same advice you’re putting into print every month.

I can with some clarity remember how, five or six years ago, I was a firm member of the ‘how bloody hard can it be to keep a fixture neat and tidy?’ camp. Three years down the line as a retailer, I know exactly how bloody hard it can be. And I understand all the reasons that make it hard.

One key piece of advice we repeatedly offered to retailers through the pages of SLR was the fundamental importance of constant reinvestment in the business. With retrospect, this can look dangerously like a glib piece of advice from a journalist sitting behind a desk. Investing in the business can be a very tough commitment to make, especially if business is slow and there’s no obvious source of cash for investment. I have personally discovered just how easy it is to find excuses why it’s not the right time to invest.

But we decided that if we were for a long time prepared to talk the talk, we now had to be true to our word and walk the walk.

We accepted that Woodlands Local, to be blunt, was underperforming. After so much change and investment, sales growth hasn’t been as dramatic as we would have liked. But when we faced reality, we knew why. Much of our prior investment was in systems, infrastructure and stuff that customers don’t see. What we needed in order to unlock the growth opportunity was to sort out the shopfloor itself and make the store look like the sort of store that I would want to shop in.

So I’m very, very proud that we’ve achieved that. Woodlands Local looks, for first time, like a modern convenience store. I would invite anyone who fancies a look to come along and talk to us and see what we’ve done. A word of thanks too must go to Graham Mason of shopfitters Direct Shelving Service who made such a great job of the refit. Their approach, attitude and workmanship was top rate.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re nervous. We know investment is vital and we hope we’ve done the right things and we know that the store should see sales growth now – but nothing is guaranteed in this game, as we all know. We’re giving it our best shot and that’s all we can do.

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Antony Begley, Publishing Director