Pop-up solution

Even at the best of times, living in a village without a local shop can be a challenge for a community, but the coronavirus outbreak and advice to avoid – or at least limit – travel have made it even more so.

Fangfoss in North Yorkshire is one such place. The small village with a population of around 500 people had no local store.

That is, until Costcutter set up a pop-up shop in the car park of a local pub.

Prior to deployment in Fangfoss, the store was in use in nearby Dunnington while the Costcutter there underwent a major refit. According to Bill Randles, director of company-owned stores at Costcutter, the pop-up store is designed as a way to make sure communities still have access to vital local shop services while an existing store is closed for a refit.

“The pop-up shops maintain a point of connection for communities, so they don’t have to change their shopping habits,” he says. “In Dunnington, the pop-up store was making around £25,000 a week, which is about 50% of the store’s regular turnover. That’s really good business for a retailer while their shop is undergoing a refit.”

Once the Dunnington refit had been completed, the Costcutter team looked for how they could make best use of the pop-up shop at a time when few retailers were likely to be refitting and renovating their shops.

“We looked for villages not served by a local shop and in need of that connection. We had a few options, but we settled on Fangfoss,” Randles continues. “The village was in need of the shop, while the car park of the temporarily-closed-down pub had everything we needed in terms of facilities and access.”

Once the location was chosen, Costcutter worked with Rapid Retail to set up the shop. Now, the site is offering a core range of essential products, including store cupboard staples, fresh products, frozen goods, and beers, wines and spirits.

What I do well

Bargain Booze Atherton

The pop-up shop excels at reacting to the needs of an isolated rural community.

“Fangfoss is very remote,” Randles explains. “It’s not on a main road, so it’s not easy for people to get to a supermarket.”

“You need to be fluid with your approach to retailing in a place like this and respond to shopper needs.

“We started off stocking the same range as we had in Dunnington, but we quickly realised that wasn’t what was needed here.”

Every village is different, so the store’s team worked quickly to find out what was right for the community.

“Ready meals are really important in Dunnington, but they’re not as popular here,” Randles continues.

“The customers here are more interested in buying individual ingredients and making a meal from scratch, so we put in deals on scratch cooking lines to encourage shoppers.”

The challenges we face

Bargain Booze Atherton

Costcutter Fangfoss faces a number of challenges, but without a doubt, the biggest one is the shop’s size, at just 265sq ft.

“The store is very small, and that means every square inch needs to be paying its way and serving the community,” explains Randles.

It makes constant evaluation of EPoS data, to check what is selling well and ensuring the best use is being made of the limited shelf space. However, it’s not as straightforward as it sounds.

“There’s no office on site, so we’re checking the sales data remotely. Of course, working remotely where possible is also important from a social distancing perspective and the safety of our staff,” he says.

Even setting up remote EPoS access came with its unexpected obstacles.

“There’s no broadband connection to the site, so we’re using 4G dongles. We then download the data to check it,” he adds.

Where our biggest profits come from

“We’re seeing that pizzas are selling well, while news and mags, and basic groceries, are other popular categories in the pop-up store,” Randles explains.

“We’re selling a lot of pasta and rice at the moment, which you wouldn’t usually expect to be the case in a small village shop like this,” he continues.

The reason, he suggests, is at least partly the result of the current crisis and changing customer priorities, alongside the villagers’ preference for scratch cooking. Randles says that based on his experience from other Costcutter-owned stores, convenience store shoppers are starting to take on new buying habits.

“We’re seeing, in general, considerably fewer transactions, but bigger basket sizes,” he explains.

“It’s important that retailers are interpreting and reacting to those changes and reflecting it in how they lay out their stores.”

How to keep customers safe

The store has strict guidelines in place to keep customers and staff as safe as possible.

“We have a strict ‘one customer in, one customer out’ policy,” explains Randles.

“As it’s not a transient demographic, we’ve found this is a little bit easier to maintain – people don’t mind having to wait or planning their visit for a less busy time.”

Hygiene is another clear priority for the shop. “All Costcutter stores are now following updated cleaning protocols, which we shared right at the start of the crisis, and the same is true at Fangfoss.

“For instance, we’re making sure high-contact areas, such as the counter and the chip and pin readers, get cleaned with a high frequency,” he adds.

There is also signage throughout the store encouraging shoppers to maintain social distancing.

What we’re working on now

There are no plans to move the pop-up shop soon.

“We’ll most likely keep the store where it is until the lockdown is over,” reveals Randles.

Signs are that the store is establishing itself in the village. “Being in a pub car park, the location is easy to overlook, but, fortunately, word of mouth spreads quickly in a community like this. We’re getting a lot of positive feedback, and when customers have a good experience, the message spreads. The turnover has been growing week on week, which shows more people are coming in.”

Randles says the team working at the store are now much “slicker” at dealing with its unique challenges.

He adds: “We’re open from 10am to 5pm each day. It’s a narrow window, but it’s another thing we’ve managed to adapt to by being flexible and reacting to what the customers are looking for in store.”

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