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Do you remember ‘Allo ‘Allo! the BBC television series that brought us such memorable catchphrases as ‘Good moaning’ and ‘I was just pi**ing by the door’?
Well I do – I watched it regularly in my teenage years, in part because I went to school with the children of the programme’s arch-villain General von Klinkerhoffen, wonderfully acted by Hilary Minster.
Although its lighted-hearted mockery of the French Resistance and German villains may have been slightly wide of the mark in terms of historical accuracy, the programme was certainly much-loved by the British public.
What on Earth does this have to do with retailing, I hear you ask. The thing that brought these memories flooding back was my visit last week to a shop called Lambs Larder in East Sussex. It is a convenience store and farm shop run by retailer Peter Lamb, and situated just next door to Frant railway station.
Before my trip I had a look at his excellent website www.lambslarder.co.uk which includes a video tour of the shop. As a soundtrack he uses the theme music from ‘Allo ‘Allo! – take a look and you’ll recognise immediately the iconic accordion tune.
In the summer he pipes the music outside his shop to create an atmosphere of rural France for the customers enjoying coffee and cake on seating outdoors. It’s a very tongue-in-cheek touch, but it’s also indicative of the way he sets the tone for his shop and creates the impression he wants to give his customers.
“Running a convenience store is all about good will,” he says.
As well as Gallic charm (he stocks exclusively some excellent wines from Chateau La Tour de Chollet in France), he also has a lot of top quality produce from various local suppliers. This includes fruit and veg (delivered daily), meat (lovely pork chops with the rind still on), and quality seafood (think swordfish and enormous black tiger shrimp). This is all differentiates the store from his competition.
And it’s also about a personal touch. The focal point of his shop is the self-service coffee machine beloved of early morning commuters dashing to the station.
He gives regulars and locals coffee at a 50 per cent discount – it still returns a good margin, and yet generates ‘mountains’ of good will because his customers think they’re getting a great deal. By this stage the shoppers are often hooked, he says, because you have given them a reason to come back time and again.
He is full of ideas about how to generate excitement in your convenience store – many of which are included in a book he has just published called ‘So, You Want to Run a Convenience Store’. It’s a handbook of essential do’s and don’ts for rookie retailers starting out in the business.
It’s based on his experiences since setting up the shop from scratch two years ago after a career in television production. It’s a really useful guide and well worth a look whether you’re just starting out or if you’re a seasoned pro.
Visiting Lambs Larder made me think about how the best retailers differentiate their shops from the competition. What makes your shop stand out? And incidentally what television theme tune would best suit your business?
*If you’re curious, Peter’s book is currently available at smashwords.com for the price of $9.95 – or around £6.50 at the time of writing.
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