Five years ago, the future of Paul Edwards’ second store, Edwards at Townfield, was in jeopardy.
Paul’s landlord, who owned the complex of shops in a shopping parade on the Wirral, had decided to replace a defunct forecourt across the road with a huge Tesco.
But Paul fought back, and managed to turn this threat into an opportunity to put into practice insight gained from 15 years in retail.
“We started a battle which went right up to the planning inspectorate at government level, which rejected Tesco’s application,” Paul explains. “So instead of a Tesco six units were built, and I transferred my store into one of them.”
The move took place in June, giving Paul more space in his new 2,300sq ft unit and the chance to try out lots of fresh ideas.
“This is the biggest of my five stores and I wanted to turn it into a mini-market with full meal solutions for mums on their way home,” Paul says. “But the whole point of us trading here instead of Tesco is that profits stay within the area. So I wanted to go way beyond Booker’s range and use lots of local suppliers too.”
Paul set to work on building a portfolio of top-notch, local products, drawing on several years experience including working with five sandwich suppliers before settling on his current, award-winning choice.
In his new store, Paul was finally able to assemble an arsenal of superb local products.
“Our locally-sourced loose fruit and veg is delivered daily by a supplier called Fine Fruits and has been flying out,” he says. “We’ve made the store really welcoming by placing it at the entrance so it brings people in. We struck lucky with our meats supplier, Bexleys, too. We spotted them selling their products in a garden centre, went over for a chat, and they’ve been outstanding.”
When he moved location, Paul also decided to splash out on an alcohol licence and now finds this is a great section for appealing to his stores’ diverse customer base.
“Within walking distance we have the home of a former Everton chairman, on millionaire’s row,” he says. “Then beside us we’ve got a council estate, and a middle-class area opposite, plus primary and secondary schools nearby. We have to make sure we appeal to everyone.”
Nothing captures Paul’s success in catering to his customers more than his wine category.
“We have a diverse range of wines, priced from £3.99 to £15,” he says. “We’ve got cheaper wines from Booker, like Echo Falls and Isla Negra. But I also wanted to make sure we have something that you won’t see at Tesco or Sainsbury’s. A friend recommended a company called Boutinot – they grow the grapes and work straight through to wholesale – and it was a perfect find. It really gives us a point of difference.”
While Paul has seen off the Tesco threat, others have emerged since June. A Subway opened in one of the other six units, which has hit Paul’s lunch takings from his Country Choice bakery, sandwich range and small selection of pies and pasties. But as he has proven previously, retailers have to be nimble-footed to survive, so he is lining up alternative sales drivers in-store.
“I’m thinking about how I can serve other customers. My Noisy Drinks slush machine, which does the healthiest slushes out there, has been a big success so I’m looking at a kid’s corner with milkshakes and slushes or sweets, or a coffee corner. If you take your eye off the ball, the ball goes flat.”
While further challenges lie in the road ahead, however, Paul’s strategic approach to retail is already reaping rewards.
“This store has taken three years of planning and we’ve through very hard about it being disabled-friendly, eco-friendly and a great place to shop. We’ve already put a third onto our takings and we haven’t peaked yet,” he says.
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