One of the most important elements an independent retailer should get right if they want to be successful is having top-level customer service.
It’s Steph Pickford’s dedication to providing fantastic customer service to her shoppers that helps BP Forestville stand out from a regular forecourt.
The store manager has been an employee of BP for 12 years and has worked her way through the business. When the opportunity arose to take on what would be a completely revamped forecourt and expanded 2,200sq ft shop last year, she jumped at the chance.
“I closed the store down when it was a tiny little shop and I got to reopen it, too,” she says. “I specifically asked to open the store. I wanted to be involved in it and learn how to open a great store. I wanted to watch it grow.”
Getting her staff up to speed before it opened in December 2018 was one of her first areas of focus. When Steph moved across to BP Forestville, the staff from her old store wanted to move with her, but she could only bring two of them. The rest of the staff was made up of new people.
“BP offered to disperse the staff to other stores for training so I didn’t have as much to do, but I did it myself. I said, ‘If they’re going to be my staff, I want them to know my standards and my expectations,’ so I trained every one of them myself,” she says.
“I think it makes a difference. I can’t expect them to work the way I want and have the same standards and expectations I have if I don’t show them how. When you’re opening a new store, it’s important for them all to be on the same page.”
Her strategy to grow sales revolves around outstanding customer service. She says: “I want it to be one of those places you want to come back to. If you impress customers, they will come back.”
It’s working. Within weeks of opening, the store was taking $22,000 (£12,302) a week, excluding fuel, and it is growing week by week.
The shop is situated on a road going out of Sydney, towards the airport and the beach, and it has a predominately residential customer base, so Steph has been working on introducing new lines that meet their needs – even products that aren’t typical for a convenience outlet.
“As the store is on the way to the beach, some customers have asked for bait for fishing, so we’re in the process of trying to get that in,” she explains.
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Steph was keen to focus on building loyalty when opening the new shop. She pushed her team to really promote BP’s Velocity loyalty programme, a scheme that gives shoppers points every time they buy fuel or purchase products at the service station. Shoppers can then redeem their points on flights through Virgin or claim money off their shopping once they have collected a certain amount.
“Part of our strategy was to get loyal customers, so we used the loyalty programme to do it,” explains Steph. “We were number one in the country for five of the first seven weeks of the year in terms of loyalty and have continued to maintain that. We also have the highest number of registered users in our area.”
Steph says the site sells $4,000 (£2,237) of hot food a week and $1,200 (£671) of coffee – equating to 240 cups.
“The addition of hot food has really helped to increase breakfast trade,” says Steph. “I’ve tried just about all of the products from the bakery. It helps to be able to talk about them to customers.”
Healthier food is also on the rise. The store’s chiller is full of products from Youfoodz – a fresh, healthier meal company that also produces protein bars and fresh juices – and Steph says the shop takes $700-$1,000 (£391-£599) of fresh food sales (including milk) a week. “It’s a huge draw and something we’ll continue to grow,” she adds.