With a new generation at the helm and customers more demanding than ever, Owen Hughes decided to switch symbol groups, invest in a refit and introduce a more premium range. Ed Chadwick reports 

The Hughes family has never been afraid to make bold changes.

Be it taking one of the country’s first Costa Coffee machines in 2012, investing in a suite of new chillers in 2013 under Nisa or undertaking a refit which completed in February this year, the owners of Damory Garage in Blandford Forum, Dorset, know they can’t afford to stand still.

Now under the management of Owen – who has taken over from father Ian – progress at the 1,800sq ft forecourt store has gathered pace in the past two years.

Amid stiff competition from a nearby One Stop and Southern Co-op, changes were needed to make the store stand out. And, with an increasingly diverse customer base – which Owen describes as a mixture of the “welly brigade” and residents of a local estate – there remained utmost importance on being all things to all people.

The solution to this conundrum, as Owen saw it, was a switch of symbol group. Operating as a Budgens store since May 2016, he says he hasn’t looked back and reports basket spend up 4.5% to £4.63. “We felt Budgens’ promotions were a better fit for our customers,” says Owen.

“The chilled and frozen offering was the best of the symbol groups. It wasn’t necessarily the biggest, but we were impressed with the fresh meat and ready meals, for example.”

The biggest revelation in terms of new products has been Cook frozen ready meals, which the store introduced in November 2017. The range is available via Cook’s outlets and selected convenience stores, which enjoy enhanced margins of 34%. In just a few months the range is delivering weekly takings of £500.

“I was surprised how popular they have been,” says Owen. “I thought at upwards of £5 for a meal for one, they might have been too expensive, but we have seen most customers happy to trade up for quality.”

Owen has begun advertising the Cook range in local papers and is targeting £1,000 of takings each week within six months.

What’s more, shoppers attracted to the frozen meals are spending an additional £200 a week on fresh produce to satisfy the serving suggestions on packaging, says Owen, and have added a similar uptick on wine.

Fresh produce was one area given extra attention as part of the refit, carried out by shopfitter Activ Projects. Wooden crates have helped give a more rustic look to fresh produce, much of which is now being sold loose. Meanwhile, taller chillers have been installed, complete with LED lighting. The impact of the refit on footfall and spend is still being assessed, but Owen is confident it will deliver.

“The extra space has allowed us to focus on products on promotion,” says Owen. “We’ve currently got a lot of that space dedicated to UFIT protein shakes which Budgens is promoting at £1 and they’ve been a huge success with a wide range of customers – everyone from older customers to gym-goers.”

The chillers are also home to locally-sourced meat which comes from Langton Arms Butchery, situated less than four miles away, and contributes about £150 a week to turnover. Promotion of local produce is neatly integrated into the store’s look via bespoke PoS.

Despite recent changes, several mainstays continue to drive revenue. Its in-store bakery contributes £3,000 a week in takings through the sale of snacks and fresh sandwiches.

The store’s Costa coffee machine, meanwhile, dispenses as many as 200 cups a day at up to £2.60.

“We’re working harder than ever to keep our customers coming through the door – whatever the reason for their visit.”

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