Premier hits 500 store mark in Scotland

Premier Ali's exterior

The UK’s leading symbol group and SLR’s reigning Symbol Group of the Year recently opened its 500th store in Scotland after a period of rapid growth.

By Antony Begley

Premier, the biggest symbol group in the UK with over 4,000 stores, has recently celebrated another milestone achievement by opening its 500th store in Scotland.

The achievement follows a period of remarkable growth for the Booker-owned group which has seen Premier add around 150 stores in the last two-and-a-half years, cementing its position in Scotland.

The last few years have been marked by extreme flux in the symbol group arena in Scotland but SLR’s reigning Symbol Group of the Year has used that time wisely, attracting a huge influx of independent retailers tempted by the relatively simple, no-nonsense manner of Premier and its enduringly successful modular approach to helping retailers build busy, profitable stores.

The 500th store is Ali’s Convenience Store in Tranent on the outskirts of Edinburgh, a store which bears all the hallmarks of Premier’s tried-and-tested modular approach that allows retailers to pick and choose from a range of solutions that focus on high margin, high volume, minimum intervention products and services.

Run by husband-and-wife team Zulfiqar and Anila Ali, the 1,400sq ft store took many learnings from flagship Premier stores down south like Mandeep Singh’s Premier store in Sheffield and, more recently, Premier Talbot Village in Bournemouth.

In essence, Premier offers a bank of proven solutions to retailers who can then pick and choose according to the needs of their own customer base, fitting as many high margin, high volume solutions into their stores as possible – although Premier does encourage to retailers to retain a spacious, approachable layout, something that is very much in evidence in the Tranent store after a £210,000 refit.

Refresh@Premier zone

Among the ‘modules’ to be found in Ali’s is the must-have Refresh@Premier Bar featuring Tango Ice Blast and Coca-Cola Frozen slush machines as well as a two-station milkshake unit and a Costa Coffee machine.

Premier’s Refresh Bar is a feature of most refits in Premier stores these days and it’s not difficult to see why. In Ali’s the Zone is already taking £3,500 a week only 10 weeks or so after reopening and margins are typically around 65%. Equally importantly, as Booker Sales Director for Retail Martyn Parkinson pointed out during the visit: “The Refresh Bar requires no input from staff, which helps keep costs down. The machines cost only around £10 a day to run and customers serve themselves, which is a feature of many of the solutions we offer to our Premier retailers.”

Beer cave

Similarly, the Tranent store features a showstopping 400sq ft beer cave that was added during the refit by repurposing part of an old storeroom. The cave offers a real point of difference over local competitors as well as over supermarkets. As well as having a vast array of chilled beers, wines, ciders and RTDs – over 50 new lines were added – the cave offers a vast selection of multipacks, something the major multiples can’t do, which goes a long way to making the store a true destination store in the local area, particularly around major sporting events and when the sun comes out.

Offering a point of difference isn’t the only benefit of a beer cave though. “We haven’t got enough data on this particular store yet,” says Parkinson, “but typically we expect to see an electricity cost saving of around 50% when compared with traditional chillers. We do know, however, that the total energy bill for the store has fallen by £100 in the first month, so that’s a great indication.

“Additionally, part of the point of the beer cave is to minimise what’s stocked in in the backshop and get it all out front. Touching stock is expensive, as we all know, so every time we reduce the amount of times it needs to be moved by staff we reduce cost for the business.”

In a similar vein, the store features 500 digital shelf edge labels which greatly reduces the time required to manually switch labels around, particularly during promotional period changes. “Even with 500 labels, we reckon that the store is saving about seven and a half hours of staff time a week,” comments Parkinson.

On the tech front, the store has also abandoned printed promotional leaflets in favour of scannable QR codes that customers can use to access deals.

Another key focus in the modern Premier blueprint is fresh and chilled, and the Tranent store toes this line too. The chilled section was expanded from two meters to seven and the range was increased from around 70 lines to more than 320.

“Fresh and chilled is critical these days but we are very aware of retailers’ concerns around waste, so we’ve worked very hard to massively increase the number of longer-life fresh and chilled products we are able to offer our retailers,” says Parkinson. “Over 80% of the lines in our fresh and chilled range now have at least 20 days’ life.”

Anila Ali doesn’t mind admitting that the huge expansion of the fresh and chilled section was her biggest concern during the refit: “Before the refit we didn’t do much and we were not known for it, so I was a little nervous at how big the section became but when I see it now, it just makes me so happy and proud! We’re not quite there yet on it as we still have some work to do to make sure all our customers know it’s here now but Premier made it clear that it would be the section that would take the longest to really flourish – but I’m positive we’ll get there, and it totally transforms the look and feel of the shop.”

Bakery products

Also added during the refit was a new food-to-go cabinet which features a range of pastries, cakes and treats. As none of the food is prepared in the store, the so-called ‘Natasha’s Law’ does not apply, minimising effort and labour costs. “The food-to-go unit requires no extra staff,” explains Parkinson. “Anyone behind the till can just stick on a pair of blue gloves and serve the customer in seconds.”

With value as critical as ever, the store stocks an extensive range of Jack’s and Euro Shopper own-label lines as well as Premier’s well-known ‘Mega Deals’ that help drive sales and communicate value.

On top of all of that, the store has stepped up its home delivery game post-refit, growing by about 30% already, and now turns over in excess of £6,000 a week using Snappy Shopper.

Anila and Zulfiqar have had the store for over 17 years, 16 of those with Premier, but Anila says the refit has been the most transformative development for the business that they’ve ever undertook.

“We had to close the store for about four weeks for the refit,” says Anila, “but we couldn’t leave the local community without a shop, so we continued to trade from a shipping container out the front!

“It wasn’t ideal, and I certainly wouldn’t want to do it again, but it kept our customers served and it helped maintain loyalty, as well as keeping some money coming in. We actually retained about 75% of our business, which we were very happy with.”

When it came to the refit, Anila says she and her husband pretty much gave Premier a free hand: “We had some ideas but we trust Premier and they know what they’re doing so we just went with almost everything they suggested. In just 10 weeks sales are up 50% so it looks like everything they suggested is working, so we’re absolutely over the moon. The store is unrecognisable and it’s just what our fantastic customers deserve!”

To coincide with the reopening, the store took advantage of Premier’s new social media support service which makes it quick and pain-free to ensure that all key promotions are posted onto Facebook, still the key platform for Premier customers, according to Parkinson. The support service helped the store quickly grow its following from 200 to over 1,200 in just a matter of weeks which directly helped grow footfall, sales and profits.

“We’re seeing around 1,000 more customers coming to the store every week now,” says Anila.

As for Premier itself, Parkinson is simply delighted that so many retailers are prepared to invest in their stores.

“The really encouraging thing for us is that retailers are seeing what we are doing with the Premier model, they’re seeing other Premier stores reap the benefits and they’re willing to invest in refurbishing their own stores to a very high standard,” he says. “The Tranent store saw £210,000 invested and none of that was on building work – that was all refit and that’s a considerable investment.

“We know how tough it is out there at the moment and that’s why we’re working so hard to get our Premier retailers’ margins up to 30%. Stores that follow the blueprint typically see margins increase by 6% or 7%. It’s all about creating a great in-store environment and working smart in key categories, keeping cost down and maximising PORs. We believe that if you follow our blueprint, you will get margins to 30% and you can expect full payback on your investment within 12 months.”

To celebrate the 500th Scottish store achievement, Parkinson says Premier will be planting 500 trees in Scotland as part of its ongoing sustainability plan and will also be offering the chance to win £10,000 towards a new Refresh@Premier Bar to retailers who join Premier in the next six months.

“It’s an exciting time in Scotland for Premier,” concludes Parkinson. “We have a long and very successful history in Scotland and I’m looking forward to welcoming more Scottish stores to Premier in the future.

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This publication contains images and information relating to tobacco products. Please do not view if you are under the age of 18 years old.

This website contains images and information relating to tobacco products. Please do not view if you are under 18 years of age.

This website contains images and information relating to tobacco products. Please do not view if you are under 18 years of age.

This publication contains images and information relating to tobacco products. Please do not view if you are under the age of 18 years old.