There was a moment around dusk after the completion of the Independent Achievers Academy Retail Study Day last month when a real strength of Mital Morar’s Ancoats General Store became apparent.
At that time, the glass windows of his shop stopped reflecting a grey Manchester outside and started to allow passers-by to glimpse inside. And what I saw in the warmly-lit interior was happy people having fun.
Fun in a convenience store? OK, it is a convenience store with a café and a bar attached. But fun nevertheless.
With his background in design, Morar has created a retail brand at the heart of a “hipster” community that is growing a stone’s throw from the centre of Manchester. During the study day he had hosted independent retailers from around the UK who wanted to see first-hand what great independent retailing looks like.
A brand, of course, is a collection of values and experiences that the buyer associates with. Ancoats General Store is a shop that you can hang out in, with like-minded people, and that sells stuff you like. On social media it shows you pictures of caffe latte art - the foam swirls on top of the drink - or the latest bottled ale offering from a cool micro-brewery.
The store name is projected within a coil ticket like the ones you pull when queuing in children’s shoe departments – but the ticket is arrayed like it is a space rocket set for take-off.
This store cannot be copied just anywhere. Take it out of its urban regeneration zone ecosystem and it would fail to connect with its local surroundings and people.
But the idea that an independent retailer can take a convenience store and make it more than a commodity, to make it a shop that local people will treasure: this branding is what you can copy.
Think about this. Starbucks opens more and more stores because it wants to be available at that point in the day when a person decides they want to have a coffee or because it wants to be at a convenient location where two people coming from different places can meet.
As a multiple, this strategy works fine. But as an independent operator you always need to get people to cross the road to buy from you. Mostly everything that you sell is available most everywhere – but how you sell it is up to you. Do mix in local products and strive to always have something new so people don’t get bored. But do make your shop a place that people want to spend more time in rather than less.
The rules of how to do this are written out in a workbook that has been developed as part of the Independent Achievers Academy.
The Retail Profit Guide is free online at betterRetailing.com (you can buy a hard copy with RN magazine) and contains the wisdom of hundreds of successful retailers.
In order to get the biggest benefit, you have to commit some time and effort. This appears daunting. The top independents who have used it normally say their biggest regret was not using it earlier. But if you want to make your shop a brand that local people will treasure – like Morar’s shop – then this is a good place to start.