Time for a fresh start at Woodlands

Woodlands local convenience store

Despite significant investment and huge effort, Woodlands Local continues to perform well below its potential – so it’s time to get back to basics and start afresh in Falkirk with a new team and a new strategy.

by Antony Begley

Getting down and dirty in the retail trade by buying our own shop has been both a hugely rewarding and enormously humbling experience. Three years of retailing has taught us a lot of things but most of them have been around just how hard it is to run a convenience store efficiently and profitably. It’s also striking how 15 years of writing about local retailing provides very little preparation for actually running a real, live store. In retrospect, we were naive to think that all we had to do was execute the things we were always advising retailers to do, often with a ‘how hard can it be?’ undertone.

The harsh reality has been that the success of convenience store has very little to do with producing efficient planograms and running regular re-ranging exercises and analysing Epos data. Sure, all of that is important – but what takes up 95% of the time is the hard yards of retail that very few trade journalists are privileged to see. Fixing problems like leaky roofs and broken fridges and faulty alarms and cranky tills and dealing with staff issues and more. Every retailer reading this knows what I’m talking about already and is undoubtedly thinking the same thing I’ve heard so often in the last few years: “welcome to our world!”

So it’s with ever increasing admiration for the many local retailers in Scotland that we have come to the conclusion that it’s time for fresh beginning at Woodlands. It’s been a hard and often dispiriting few years, but I like to think we’re a lot better for the experience and we are in a better place than ever to develop our Woodlands Local 2.0 strategy.

In short, everything is up for grabs at the store. We’re starting with a clean slate and that includes everything from staffing and store layout to suppliers and procedures.

Our relatively new Store Manager Arlene Nixon has made a huge impact in the store, taking a much more hard-nosed retailer’s approach to working the shop much harder – and we’ve realised that it’s more of the same we need. That means a largely new team who will be issued with detailed procedures for every aspect of managing the store and will be expected to toe the line on all fronts and work their tails off every hour they are in the store. It also means a more standardised set of procedures right across the store, rather than the hotch potch of systems we have allowed to develop with every member of staff doing things slightly differently, mostly with good intentions, but often with poor results. The gloves are off.

We are currently recruiting for three or four new members of staff and have already added one very promising member and we will be operating a one-strike-and-you’re-out policy with regards to time-keeping, effort, adherence to procedures and attitude towards the customer.

A monster procedures manual is also nearing completion outlining how everything – literally everything – is to be done, from opening the store in the morning and cashing up at night to how to make a ham salad roll, from cleaning the coffee machine to ordering stock, from stock-taking regimes to recording waste, from discounting short-coded stock to merchandising promotions. Everything.

So far it’s been done verbally and passed between the staff with varying degrees of efficiency. Now, every member of staff will be issued with a hard copy of the manual and will also be obliged to follow an online training procedure course being prepared for us by Bolt Learning.

We have also identified a host of vital areas where we are clearly under-performing and losing sales or money. Our aim is to get these sorted and proceduralised within two weeks. They include, but are not restricted to:

  • Newspapers and magazines: redeeming vouchers is haphazard at best, the returns process is clunky and seat of the pants
  • Hot food: management of waste has been sloppy
  • Tobacco: stock taking and handling from secure area to gantry is under par
  • Fresh & chilled: ranging has not been responsive enough to seasonal changes in availability, sell through rates and establishing the ‘right’ range for the store
  • Food to go: our range has evolved too slowly and we have not capitalised on a demonstrable high demand for hot and cold food to go with a lack of creativity and poor customer communications
  • Promotions: the promotional stock ordering process has been unscientific, the merchandising of promotions has been less than optimum, although this has improved significantly under Arlene’s tenure

The list goes on, but you get the picture. As part of this we are also re-evaluating the macro-space planning of the store. The mission-shopping based layout has not been successful with shoppers keen to simply find products where they expect to find them, rather than ‘conveniently’ dotted around the store where we were trying to make it easier for them.

We also plan to engage with a number of the major suppliers to come on board and help us take a fresh look at every single category from a wider perspective. This will include confectionery, BWS, spirits, crisps, soft drinks, biscuits, bread, grocery and frozen.

We are under no illusion that we have a lot of work ahead of us, but three years have taught us that this is simply the way the trade is. There’s nothing for nothing and we have to earn every customer and every penny. It will also mean taking a closer look at categories where, with some experience under our belts, we see some potential to drive new footfall and bring new customers to the door, categories like vaping, craft beers, greetings cards, specialist spirits, free from. We’ve had a go at most of these categories in the past but have not given them the space and time they need to develop into solid sales deliverers for us.

And who knows, maybe we need to look at some more radical ideas like a pizza oven, a delivery service, home news delivery or a fully-fledged cafe area out front. It’s all up for grabs but we’ve got our mojo back and we’re going to give it 100%.