The first step in making your store fit for the future is to discover what you do that is better than the competition and to make sure everyone in your neighbourhood knows about. Retail Express speaks to Cambridgeshire retailer Abdul Arain to find out more
The best stores in the country all have one thing in common: they cater for their customers by offering something different to the competition and satisfy consumers’ needs better than anyone else.
A top store located in Shoreditch, London, or Manchester’s Northern Quarter will look a lot different to a post office in the Cotswolds, but both will stand out from the competition by offering different and relevant products, services and experience.
Abdul Arain’s Al Amin Stores in Cambridge is a 2,500sq ft treasure trove of food from around the world that stands apart from the nearby Sainsbury’s, Co-op and One Stop.
“We’re hugely passionate about food and inspiring customers with our range,” he tells Retail Express.
By offering a range of hard-to-find grocery lines and authentic food to go, Arain attracts a broad range of shoppers, from students coming in for a quick, nutritious lunch to family shops with a basket spend of more than £200.
To secure your store’s place in your community’s heart, you have to offer something above the traditional convenience offer.
This could be something small like payment services, parcel collection or a club scheme, like a loyalty card. In Arain’s case, his entire store is a point of difference– a bold strategy that has
01) Offer an authentic range
Arain’s customers would find it difficult to think of a line within world food that is not available in his store. Mainstream brands are present, but the vast majority of the shelf space is devoted to the niche and the hard-to-find.
“We carry a huge amount of stock – probably more than the average supermarket, and we’re constantly adding to it and reviewing it,” he says.
Arain’s hot food to go and deli is the jewel in his range’s crown. Making up 11% of sales, the range includes curries, falafel and onion bhajis that are made fresh in-store.
“We’re going to move our store around and introduce a seating area so that we make more from this area,” he says.
The 14 full- and part-time staff at Al Amin Stores are essential for maintaining the store’s signature range. “Most of them have been here for a long time. I make sure that I empower my staff to make choices and make them feel valued,” Arain says.
Building this team will not happen overnight, but you can begin to introduce these empowering techniques to start on the path immediately.
02) Cater for speciality diets
Arain has offered gluten-free and vegan-friendly food to go made in-store for 15 years. It now accounts for more than 20% of his annual turnover.
“Close members of my family have suffered with gluten intolerances, so I was able to draw on their experiences to get my range right,” he says.
The store runs cooking demonstrations to help shoppers better understand how to cook these speciality ingredients. It has made the store a centre for customers to come for food inspiration.
“It also allows us to show off that we understand our range. We can communicate that we are experts and that our customers can trust us,” Arain explains.
Offering gluten-free and vegan food to go is the combination that allows Arain to target Cambridge’s crucial 18-24 student demographic. “We make following speciality diets simple and convenient for customers, something that we don’t see many other places in the area doing.”
3) Promote your values
Arain describes his store as ‘a melting pot of cuisine and culture’ – a strapline that is written and reinforced around the shop.
This thinking inspires all different areas in his store, his range, the butchers and his hot food to go. The message is so strong that it has led to him creating his own own-label brand, which is present in categories like sauces and preserves. “We’ve developed this alongside trusted suppliers and it allows us to show the quality we can offer,” he says.
But values are as much about what you don’t stock as what you do. “We’re known for being an ethical store. We don’t deal with suppliers that support tyrannical regimes and we don’t stock products that do people and society harm,” says Arain.
This is the reason, he says, that alcohol and tobacco are not found among the shop’s range. It could be considered a risky strategy, but with the store orientated towards fresh, chilled and hot food, lucrative profits make up for it.
In 2003, Arain linked up with Climate Change initiative and ran competitions for local children. As part of the campaign he gave out bags for life with his mission statement written on them,
a practice that is still in place today.
“This allows us to communicate what we stand for to our customers and remind them that we care about the quality of our food. I’ve spotted these bags as far away as Australia,” he says
4) Offer shops within a shop
The concept of a shop within a shop simply means that your store is a destination for another product or service that you would not expect in a usual convenience store. This could be a post office, vape station or a food franchise like Subway.
Arain has opted for a butchers, with locally-sourced and halal meats. A nearby TV on the wall opposite is used to promote offers, and during Ramadan it provides a live stream to Mecca.
“Having the butchers at the back of the store means that it brings customers all the way past our other products when they want to use it. It’s working really well for us,” he says.
Top five ways Retail Express readers say they stand out from the competition
We respond well to our customers’ needs
We know all our customers
We have the most helpful staff
We support our local community
We always have products in stock
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Since joining Budgens, we have managed to grow our fresh and chilled range and meal for tonight sales. By promoting our Discover The Choice brand, we have become the place to go for affordable quality.
Ancoats General Store
Every Thursday we run an event called ‘Scrancoats’, where we team up with a local food supplier and serve food in our store. We also have a broad range of craft beer, quality coffee and art events to bring in younger shoppers.
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