Steve Denham

In July 1996, I attended a talk entitled Modern Retail Marketing. The ticket price was £20 and while I went with limited expectations, I came away from the evening with a huge to-do list.

The talk made me question everything I was doing in running my business. From the range stocked and services provided, to how my store compared with my competitors. But the biggest takeaway was developing an adverting campaign.

Steve Denham shop

Within a couple of weeks my wife and I had put together a basic marketing plan. We saw immediate results from the weekly leaflets we delivered with the Saturday newspapers. By early September, I was able to write a letter to RN about our success.

The letter was was published and I was then asked to write an 800-word article about a day in my life. It was about what happened on 6 September 1996, the first Saturday the shop opened in the afternoon.

My shop of 25 years ago as described in my very first article now seems startlingly old fashioned. It was a newsagent, and so newspapers were the profit centre. The disregard shown by publishers for my business in the previous 7 years had been instructive. In 1996 I was ready to change my business formula and implementing all the marketing lessons I had learned proved transformative.

The evening confronted me with some harsh realities I needed to address. I had benefitted from the retail training I received during the 20 years I worked for WHSmith, but that was aimed at managing their stores and using their system, supported by their head office and supply chain. I needed to focus on my business as an independent store.

What I discovered is marketing is so much more than advertising. I needed to review my business. This included our customers, our competitors, our range and our suppliers.

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I wanted to know who our customers were, where they lived and what they bought from us. I wanted to know who they think our competition is and how do we encourage them to come to us first. One big question I had to ask was simply: do they like shopping in my store? If not, why, and what could we do to change that?

The buying habits of customers also came into play, as I tried to find out what products we stocked that customers didn’t know we stocked, and how could we communicate that to them. And why do customers buy lines we sell elsewhere?

I invested in an EPoS scanning system in 1994, so was able to look at what was selling and, more importantly, the slow selling lines. It was a shock how much display space was being used for poor sellers in my range.

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I also listed all my competitors and assessed how my shop compared across the products and services offered. It was a salutary lesson in how I had allowed my business to drift away from its core goals.

I spoke to my employees, customers and suppliers and I learned how to shout about my business: first came a weekly leaflet, then longer trading hours. In 1997 we employed a local builder and increased the size of the shop floor in a move to convenience. And that was just the start!

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