Ancoats General Store: ‘We’re breaking the normal trends of retail’

Asked about the store's format: “We’re on a journey to break the normal trends of retail” answers owner Ancoats General Store owner Mital Morar.

Location: Ancoats Manchester

Hours: 7am-11pm Mon-Sat, 8am-10pm Sun

Staff: Nine

Size: 3,000

Trading since: May 2016

Bluegrass and French hip-hop plays while puppies and their owners sit at glossed chipboard tables eating poutine from a pop-up street food trader. “We’re on a journey to break the normal trends of retail,” says owner Ancoats General Store owner Mital Morar.

The area’s trends are changing too. Previously the birth place of the industrial revolution, poverty and high unemployment followed until a 2012 regeneration brought the younger and more affluent population the store works for.

Growing up in his father’s store, Mital learnt saw a core range of products doing the heavy lifting while other sections “gathered dust.”

In response, he ensures that “every inch of this store sweats”, using an avid interest in sourcing and his instinct on what works for his Ancoats audience. “I have a huge frustration with wholesalers telling retailers do this, do that, do this core range, copy this planogram. As long as you follow your instinct you’ll be doing business with open ears and an open mind. If you use your wholesalers as anything more than a supply route you’ll get stuck. You’ve got to forge relationships elsewhere and not keep all your eggs in one basket.”

This includes locally sourcing fresh coffee, bread, in-store catering, sandwiches, craft beer, spirits, vintage clothing, artisanal sodas and local art or the Ancoats General Store. Describing the access shop owners now have to find different stock, he says “There’s never been a better time to be a retailer.” The store has well over 100 different suppliers and the approach is working, exceeding the regular targets.

One of the most noticeable example of exceptional sourcing is the craft beer range, utilising 35 breweries, over 100 lines, growlers and even an own branded line to build its reputation, and it protects it fiercely. “I walked in to a Tesco and saw they now had Vocation Brewery, I really loved them but we’ve stopped stocking them because Tesco stock them.”

Another key element at all three of Mitel’s stores is customer service based on the hospitality industry. He states: “people are living for today and tomorrow now. Corner shops are more convenient for this but only if we can match their expectations. Provide a place where the music, the lighting, the service, the ambience and even the seating is right, and why wouldn’t customers visit every other day?”

When it’s suggested that the area lends itself to this business model, Mital denies this: “I’ve got one in deepest darkest Moss Side. Our roster of suppliers allows us to serve over a dozen different migrant communities and because of this it still achieves incredible sales. We worked solidly to source and give the community what they want, it’s the same approach.”

Despite ram-raids, armed robberies and bereavements delaying Mital’s plans for 2017, he is still set in winning awards and securing investment in order to replicate and develop his successful strategy, and to continue “flying the flag for retail.”

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Breaking free from a standard ranging

“It just takes courage and for retailers to treat it like an investment. Spend £1,000 on different product and measure the response. You’ll lose some of that money but you’ll learn a lot about what works.”

Vet your local suppliers carefully

“We don’t deal with suppliers who aren’t capable of meeting our demands, we make sure to have a criteria for each section that they need to be able to meet including consistent deliveries, consistent pricing and the capacity to meet fluctuations in demand.”

A focus on fresh should focus on the rest too

“You can’t treat fresh as a separate department, are they going to eat a plain chicken fillet? No, they’ll want sauce, a side and something to wash it down. Design your placement with this in mind and you won’t just be increasing sales in fresh, it’s across the store. Done well a retailer can double their take.”

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