Retailer profile: Rachael Hockmeyer, Spar Sleaford

Rachael’s parents took over the site in 1972, and the Hockmeyers’ forecourt business has always moved with the times.

It has reinvented itself several times – from Skoda franchise to Daihatsu dealership and changing again when the Japanese car maker headed abroad.

The shop, which Rachael now runs with her husband Christian, has been just as quick to adapt to change. At first it was no more than a basic 400sq ft unit and in 2001 they joined the Mace symbol group. In late 2011 Rachael chose to partner with Spar and by December 2012 they had completed an ambitious transformation project, more than doubling store size. After the extension, shop turnover doubled.

“We’ve had a lot of help from Blakemore and they’ve tasked us to push our own boundaries more,” says Rachael.

“For example, with fruit and veg, which we didn’t do before, they told us that if we were going to do it we had to do it properly.”

It has taken a year for the category to start turning a profit but now it is helping grow the shop’s other categories as well.

Location: Sleaford, Lincs

Staff: 24 (19 in the shop)

Hours: 6am-10pm Monday to Friday, 7am-10pm Saturday, 8am-10pm Sunday

Trading started: July 1972

Size: 2,100sq ft

Style: A forecourt on the main road out of town, close by an affordable housing estate. Has a full convenience offering and a dedicated food-to-go section

Another change bringing in cash was the decision to take on Hermes Parcel services. This was initially to attract customers, but it has turned into a money making venture in its own right. They now handle 125 parcels a week, with each one making 40p for the business.

But the refurb has not just been about trying new things. Two of the shop’s biggest strengths for many years have been food-to-go and tobacco, and these have not been forgotten about.

Joan Foreman is the staff member in charge of the shop’s bake-off, and she is a crucial part of the business.

“Food to go is not very easy to get right – and without her it wouldn’t be what it is,” says Rachael.

The first batch of hot food is ready just before 6am when the shop opens, and the first hour of trading is “chaos”.

This is when builders and business people stop in to buy their breakfast, along with their fuel, sandwiches for lunch, a paper and their cigarettes. The biggest seller is the bacon and sausage baguette for £2.75 – real “man food”, says Rachael.

“The hot food has high margins, but its real value is that it brings our customers here. They could use their fuel cards anywhere, but they don’t. They choose to come here.”

Rachael’s tips:

1) Understand e-cigarettes. With an in-house e-cig ‘expert’, Rachael now sells more Totally Wicked refill cartridges than Lambert & Butler 10s.

2) Get your value conscious customers to trade up on wine. Villa Maria on temporary offer at £6-7 a bottle has encouraged her shoppers to try something new.

3) Be prepared to invest in fresh. It took a year for fruit and veg to become profitable but these products are now growing average basket spend.

Her shop sells an “excessive” amount of tobacco, and in July last year Rachael started stocking Totally Wicked e-cigarettes after she saw pop band Girls Aloud advertising them. Hers was the first shop in town to stock the brand and now they sell 300 refill bottles per month – now more than the number of Lambert and Butler 10-packs they sell.

People can order this brand direct from the website, but customers still prefer to come and pick it up, rather than paying for postage. Some drive 15 miles to buy it and pick up a lot in one go.

“The margins are excellent and it’s bumped the profits in our tobacco section up,” she says.

It has paid to appoint a dedicated staff member as e-cigarette expert.

“People don’t ask about cigarettes, but with e-cigarettes customers are sometimes still unsure, so it helps to be able to talk about them.”


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