Tough decisions to take at Woodlands

Woodlands local convenience store

As Woodlands Local parts company with its store manager and the options for choosing a new supplier narrow, we’ve had to make some tough decisions.

Whoever said that people are the toughest challenge in retail never said a truer word. Finding good people to run and operate the store has been without any shadow of a doubt the toughest challenge we’ve had in Falkirk since we first bought the business – and that observation remains just as true to this day. The latest people challenge we face is deciding how to structure the in-store team after our second manager parted company with the business, leaving is with the choice of attempting to find a new manager, or taking an altogether different approach to running the store.

After consulting with the team and our Board of Directors, we have decided to run Woodlands Local for a trial period of six months without a nominated store manager and run instead with a team of shift supervisors. In our experience, naming managers seems to have created as many problems as it solved. Perhaps we just haven’t found the right people but perhaps we were simply expecting too much of one person in asking them to carry out all the managerial tasks involved with running a busy convenience store which has the added complication of being owned by a trade magazine.

Whatever the truth is, we’re set on appointing shift supervisors and leaving the strategic management of the store to the team in Glasgow. To be fair to the team we now have left in the store, the morale and enthusiasm is arguably better than it’s ever been and I’ve already had literally dozens of comments from our regular customers telling me how much better the atmosphere is in the shop these days.

Process driven

With no dedicated manager, however, our reliance on systems, protocols and procedures is only set to increase – but this is something we have been keen on implementing for a long time. The latest developments simply gave us the excuse to commit to that strategy and we’ve already begun work on drafting a series of procedural documents stipulating how everything is done in the store. Literally everything.

The first step was a to-do list for the two shifts we operate (06:45 to 13:45 and 13:45 to 21:00) including tick boxes for every activity and pages that need to be signed at the end of every shift.

We are also introducing methodologies for the optimum management of everything from managing the Lottery and scratchcards to ordering milk, from our cleaning and hygiene routines to our daily bake-off quantities (and waste management tracking), from recipes for making filled rolls to signing stock in and out of the store. Everything in the store will be proceduralised so that, in theory, every important task each shift will be carried out just as it should be, and staff will also have a reference document no matter what they are asked to do.

It sounds like death by administration but in reality it’s simply a case of writing down what the staff are already doing most of the time and ensuring that each procedure is the best procedure it can be – with everything logged and tracked on a shift by shift basis. Wish us luck.

Fresh challenge

Since before the turn of the new year we have been working with Craig Brown and his retail team at Filshill to plan an entire store re-lay. This was complicated by the collapse of Palmer and Harvey, as it was P&H who used to supply our fresh, chilled and frozen (on behalf of Costcutter). It has taken some time for us to narrow down our options, but we have decided to buy our fresh, chilled and frozen from Nisa now via Filshill. Costcutter also offered us the option of buying Nisa through them – but Filshill offered a 12 month grace period where we wouldn’t be hit with £100 fines for failing to hit our 100-case minimum weekly order.

We’re pretty confident that we can do 100 cases a week, particularly as we can include milk and bread (from Allied) in those 100 cases, but the grace period limits our exposure and gives us time to learn what’s working and what’s not. That trial period will kick off this month and we’ll let you know how it’s going in the next issue.

Re-lay is go

As part of the store-wide re-merchandising, we have already started work on a few categories. Both Wrigley and Diageo have been in to audit our offerings in the categories they cover and have suggested several new lines to add to our range, some lines to de-list and some significant and some minor amendments to the merchandising of the categories.

The fixtures already look neater and tidier, plus a bit fresher, but it’s too early yet to tell the impact on sales. One thing we have learned however is that when we make big changes to a fixture, sales invariably increase – no doubt just because the fixture has ceased to be ‘wallpaper’ for customers.

We’re particularly interested in our alcohol offer as we see a huge opportunity presented by Minimum Unit Pricing. Now we can match the prices offered by the supermarkets. Why buy a case of 24 beers you don’t need for £22+ when you can get four cold ones at Woodlands for the same price (pro rata)? Why go to Tesco to buy a bottle of vodka when you can get it at Woodlands for the same price – and Woodlands is much closer and the staff are friendlier?

For that reason, we’re keen to get our alcohol offering in top shape.

New ranges

Also happening as part of the re-lay is the introduction of some new categories to the store, or categories we haven’t stocked in a while. We’ve added a big range of kids’ confectionery from Bobby’s Foods to create a dedicated section. The lines are also value priced and come sale or return which means there’s no risk on our part. Additionally, we’re re-introducing a range of greeting cards from Card Connection, also on what is effectively a sale or return basis.

We did stock greetings cards but the wall the fixture was mounted on got water-damaged very badly when the flats above the store flooded. We also lost part of the space during our major refit. We’ve now decided to reclaim that space and bring cards back, which will hopefully help drive footfall, sales and profits as the lines typically carry a margin of over 50%.

Finally, we are likely to have AG Barr on as our official soft drinks partner in Woodlands Local in the near future and will hopefully implement their brand-new planogram over the next few weeks. As part of that, we are moving all our soft drinks into the large open dairy deck chiller, bringing the entire soft drinks impulse range together for the first time in several years. The waters and sports drinks had previously been merchandised in a standalone closed-door chiller which may have been impacting negatively on sales, given the highly impulsive nature of soft drinks.

The closed-door chiller will then be used as our dedicated breakfast and lunch chilled food to go unit, carrying our extensive range of filled rolls, sandwiches, salads, toasties, pork pies, slices, fruit juices, smoothies and so on. These categories are probably less impulsive and are much more likely to be the reason the shopper is actually visiting the store, so the closed door should be less of an impediment to sales.