Thanks to the temporary closure of the store around the corner, Woodlands Local celebrated its most profitable month since we bought it four years ago!
by Antony Begley
We’re not kidding ourselves on: we know exactly why July was a good month – our nearest competitor closed for a refit – but we still feel it would be wrong of us not to celebrate the fact that July was the most profitable month we’ve had at Woodlands Local since we first bought the store four years ago. It’s a small victory but a victory nonetheless, and we’ll take any success we can get at this point.
The store was around 23% up on typical sales levels throughout July, which is massive and brought its own (very welcome) problems. Our ordering and staffing regimes had to be slightly reworked to cope with the increased volumes but that led us to tweak our existing structures and systems. We also introduced a more regimented rota pattern and ordering procedure, but those much needed anyway.
More positive news comes from the fact that, while sales have fallen since the competitor store re-opened, we’ve settled so far at a level around 6% or 7% higher than we were averaging before. Whether this is a long-term trend and we’ve permanently stolen some footfall or whether the figures fall over the coming weeks and months remains to be seen.
Of course, we also must factor in the effect of weather, the World Cup and to a lesser extent the European Championships when judging the store’s relative performance but all told, it looks like we’re making gentle progress on a lot of fronts.
We’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that staffing will always be our biggest challenge at Woodlands Local, but with one of our two supervisors due to return home after her visa expires in October we’ve decided to start planning ahead by reverting to have a full-time manager. Our second supervisor, Kerry, has been promoted to store manager and given responsibility for managing recruitment and building her own team with a focus on energy, commitment and constant improvement.
Within weeks she has already made a significant impact, drafting in a bigger team of full-time staff and drilling them in how we expect everything to be done, down to the tiniest detail. It’s still early days in our latest staffing strategy but the signs so far are good. We’re already encountering fewer instances of core, basic actions being missed.
No, we haven’t electrocuted anyone. The electrical shock we suffered was the meltdown of one of Woodlands Local’s electrical loops that meant we lost the tills, the Lottery terminal and the PayPoint machine for most of a full day – which cost of thousands of pounds in sales and made a big dent in the weekly performance report.
The problem was fixed later the same day, but it was very disappointing, given that the entire store was rewired and a new three-phase supply fitted just a few years ago.
Another significant cause of stress last month was when a wall socket decided to stop working. Unfortunately, this caused our main catering freezer and two small catering fridges to switch off during the night. All the frozen and chilled stock was lost and we had a full morning without any catering stock to service the hot food operation which, as you can imagine, went down really well with our customers.
An emergency delivery by local supplier AML Foods helped minimise the damage and get things back on track but it never ceases to amaze me how unforgiving customers can be when it comes to things over which you have absolutely no control and which are costing you lots of money. They’ve been able to buy hot food for 360-odd days of the year but it’s the one day that they can’t that seems to be the one that’s most important to them!
Last month also saw us introduce two new ranges and planograms in the store: one for the soft drinks (from AG Barr) and one for biscuits (by pladis). The two fixtures certainly look a lot more enticing but it will be a little while before we can deduce whether or not they have helped grow sales.
Again, interpreting the sales data will be a challenge as we will have to factor in the sustained period of hot weather we had, the effect of the World Cup and so on. But we’ve got to hope that sales have been increased through the activity.
A perennial issue we face in the store is the parking area outside Woodlands Local. Technically a public road, the five or six spaces we have available are only supposed to be for 30 minutes maximum with no return within two hours. The sign pointing this out however is very small and in four years of having the store we’ve never seen a traffic warden around to enforce it.
The major problem is that every Friday and Sunday, all spaces are taken up by non-customers who park there for around two hours while they use the church across the road. This hosts a Slimming World on Fridays, alongside the church service every Sunday.
We’ve tried all sorts of ideas to encourage the churchgoers not to use the spaces and deprive customers of the ability to visit the store for essentials, but our requests have largely fallen on deaf ears. We’ve even had a fair bit of verbal abuse, which you could interpret as being very un-Christian indeed. So far we’ve resisted the urge to suggest to the slimming club members that parking around the corner and adding a two-minute walk to their trip might not be a bad idea.
Our latest plan is another campaign of approaching Falkirk Council to ask them to install a more visible sign highlighting the 30-minute rule or even just sending a traffic warden around one Friday or Sunday morning. It has never worked so far but we’re nothing if not persistent.