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RN columnist Bintesh Amin was one of the first independent retailers in England to have his gantry doors fitted by JTI last month. Here, he talks to Chris Rolfe about his transition to the dark market, the challenges he has encountered – and overcome
In his four years as an RN columnist, Bintesh Amin has been consistent: every month, without fail, he has done something new in his store.
So it’s no surprise that Blean Village Londis was one of the first stores in his region to have its gantry doors fitted by JTI last month, well ahead of the 6 April tobacco display ban.
“I acted early because I knew what was happening and I wanted to be prepared,” says Bintesh, who has owned the 1,400sq ft store in Kent with his wife Reena for nearly five years. “I looked at overhead and under-counter options and vending machines, but decided it was easier to work with JTI because we already had a relationship.”
Work began in August, with JTI trade marketeer Alistair Vant conducting a business review that led to the introduction of a new planogram in October.
“The review identified fast and premium priced sellers and we gave them more facings. We delisted around seven brands where less than a pack a week was sold.”
Three weeks ago, the doors were fitted and Bintesh says stock control has improved and that working in a dark market has had little impact. “On the first day it was confusing, but we’re getting used to working with price lists and opening the doors at the right times. It’s about getting into the habit of working this way,” he says.
Sales might take “a second or two longer” as staff adjust, but sales are the same.
“People who were buying certain brands are still buying them, although some have traded down. Sales were down a little before Christmas anyway, but they’ve been picking up since mid-January.”
The only notable changes are increased sales of bigger packs of rolling tobacco and Rizla multipacks and a slight drop in sales of newer products.
Bintesh says preparing for the display ban has had a positive effect on the whole store.
One lesson JTI was keen to get across was the importance of availability, so Bintesh has improved the way he uses Londis’s auto-ordering system. Minimum and maximum stock levels have been set for all products to improve stock holding and daily orders and weekly stock counts now take place across all categories.
“By focusing on availability we only have five or six gaps at a time. That’s reduced the amount of stock in the stockroom.”
Seeing the benefits of Alistair’s range review, Bintesh followed suit around the whole store, removing slow selling alcohol, chilled food, drinks, crisps and snacks. With less stock, sales are still up 6% week on week.
Bintesh attributes much of this to new products and merchandising tactics.
The store’s latest addition is a Tchibo coffee machine, brought in two weeks ago to take pride of place by the door in the newly-created food to go section, which offers hot and cold snacks and will soon include a new sandwich fridge.
The cake range has been increased to include more premium products from local suppliers, £1 pricemarked cakes from Londis and impulse products. And the soft drinks chiller now follows a Coca-Cola planogram, displayed on Bev Trac shelving.
[pull_quote_right]I looked at overhead and under-counter options and vending machines, but decided it was easier to work with JTI because we already had a relationship[/pull_quote_right]
“We thought about the different shopping missions and how our customers shop and have based more of our planograms and layout around this,” says Bintesh.
Another benefit of the range cull is the extra space created for niche and local products – something the store specialises in.
“We stock curries, pastes, wine and flowers from local suppliers. We’re selling around £650 of American confectionery every week too. People are pre-ordering it because the products are so unusual,” he says.
“We’ve massively increased our range of local ales too, from half a shelf to five full shelves. We can’t get enough of them. We get people ordering 50 cases at a time for weddings.”
The effect of these changes is that weekly turnover has grown from around £17,000 in October to £21,000 today. But as ever, Bintesh is already planning his next move. “I want turnover to be up to £25,000 by the end of the year,” he says.
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