Unseasonably warm weather over the last few weeks has done no harm at Woodlands Local as we gear up for what will hopefully be a busy and sunny summer.
by Antony Begley
There’s nothing that puts a smile on the face of a retailer quite like a bit of sunshine and the last month or so has seen more than its fair share of decent days, helping to push up footfall and sales across the store at Woodlands Local. The sunshine has brightened up another otherwise challenging month as we continue to attempt to recruit new staff and build on the good work by our new store manager Arlene. It’s fair to say that the shopfloor has never looked better since we’ve had the store, with great availability and a much more logical macro layout after a series of tweaks implemented by Arlene.
It’s also been a very successful couple of months in terms of the promotional packages we’ve run in store, taking advantage of a strong couple of promotional periods from Filshill and Costcutter. In particular, the BOGOF deal on Walkers £1 bags springs to mind with more than 40 cases sold in the last month or so, and a series of good wine deals from Filshill have helped push wine sales up in the store by around 15% over the last month. The 4-pack Bud, Stella and Tennent’s deals also proved a major hit during the last few weeks of warm weather.
On the downside, the sales of hot food take a hit when the sun comes out which has a serious impact as our food to go offer tends to deliver strong margins. That has been offset however by the introduction of a new range of freshly prepared salads which are proving popular, particularly with the staff of the Community Hospital across the road.
Which all goes to show that local retailing is an industry where you can never switch off. Every month, every week, every day brings new opportunities and new challenges and one of our biggest learnings in the store over the last three years is that we can never switch off and rely on systems and procedures to consistently deliver for us. There is always work to be done in terms of reacting to changing conditions like weather, sporting events, buying patterns, Lottery jackpots and a thousand other things.
Chilled & frozen
One area where we’ve done well in the last few weeks has been, unsurprisingly, ice cream. We’ve taken a two-pronged approach, offering our shoppers two options: a value-driven own label range of ice creams and lollies from Costcutter’s Independent range, and a premium range at much higher prices with serious cash margins. Somewhat surprisingly, the split in sales is far closer to 50/50 between these two offerings than we’d expected with many shoppers seemingly unconcerned about premium pricing when the sun is out and they’re looking for a cold treat.
A rework of the freezers to accommodate a better range of ice creams also led us to remerchandise the rest of the freezers, using Epos data to strip out a few of the slower moving lines and re-site some of the better lines in easier to find positions. We have also added in a few more frozen lines, including three from Quorn for the first time. There are also a few chilled Quorn lines on offer now too and those started selling on day one, which was a pleasant surprise. We were very unsure as to whether there was a demand for free-from lines in our part of Falkirk, but it just goes to show. The first pack of Quorn sausages was sold before the team had even finished putting the new stock on the chiller shelves and we’re hopeful that we can tap into a new audience with this meat-free range.
Our experiment with a mission-shopping based layout for the store is gradually unwinding as customers have consistently failed to understand the layout of the store and have continued to look for grocery, for instance, where they expect to find it, rather than in the ‘meal for tonight’ zone we had created.
The breakfast and lunch zone and the hot food zones have been retained as they are working reasonably well but the meal for tonight zone has now been scrapped in favour of a more traditional layout. The ambient meal for tonight section has now been replaced by a more conventional large format section – multipacks of crisps, soft drinks and confectionery – and the aisle end is already delivering bigger sales than it did as a meal for tonight aisle end. Lesson learned on that front, unfortunately.
Another major reworking of one part of the store sees the far wall reworked to bring all bread, cakes, biscuits, teas and coffees, cereals, jams and spreads and baking products together for the first time. The fixture now looks much tidier and we are hopeful that it makes more sense to our customers too.
As a consequence of this, we have also had to rework the grocery aisle (where the cereals used to be) but we are making good progress on that. We obviously have a lot more space to play with now and have added a lot of grocery lines that we are confident will add to our offering. Our world foods section has also been developed a little further and now covers Mexican, Italian, Indian, Chinese and Thai.
As always, staffing remains a challenge. We have successfully recruited one new potentially full-time staff member but have been ploughing through treacle to find more suitable candidates. There have been several more no-shows for interviews and several more interviews that did happen but the candidates were not suitable for a variety of reasons. There is absolutely no doubt in our minds that staffing is the number one challenge in the local retailing and will continue to be so.
The fact that our wage bill has risen by many thousands of pounds a year through the minimum wage doesn’t help, particularly as we get absolutely zero for that extra money. Balancing out staffing requirements with an acceptable monthly wage bill has never been trickier and we don’t see it getting any easier any time soon.