“We’ve gone from trying to be competitive with supermarkets on things like tins of beans, to really pushing the boat out on much higher-margin products,” says Dan Brown, from the Pinkie Farm Convenience Store in Musselburgh, Scotland. 

“I’ve spent the past year changing the mission of the store. We’ve moved away from ambient grocery towards food to go and chilled products.” 

This shift included a major refit, finished in April, which saw the store’s chillers made larger and more prominent. In terms of food to go, they’ve installed deli and bakery cabinets, and, most recently, a pizzeria and ice cream parlour.

“The customers are positive about it and we’ve seen that have a positive impact on sales, and the shop’s margins,” Dan says.

To make a success of food to go, Dan and his staff have worked hard to reduce wastage in the store.

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“The danger people fall into is not recording the things that can’t be scanned, which means they’re not keeping track of what’s being thrown out. You can end up with money hemorrhaging from your business without even realising it,” Dan says.

“So, we write things down. If you record it, you can start to see when things are being thrown out. You get a detailed picture of what you sell and when. First thing in the morning we’ll have a limited number of pastries, because it’s generally hot filled rolls that are most popular. Later on, we stock more steak pies and things like that,” explains Dan.

“We also do as much crossover on products as we can. One way of doing this is using items in our deli counter for sandwich and wrap fillings, sometimes even as pizza toppings. 

“Another example is croissants. On the first day, we’ll have our shelves rammed full of fresh croissants. On the second day, we’ll fill them as a sandwich – they’re actually better for that on the second day because they’re not too soft.”

In terms of preparing his staff for the new food-to-go offering, Dan strives to keep all the processes as simple as possible. In the pizzeria, the hardest thing to do consistently is making dough. To solve this, they’ve begun ordering frozen dough, which just needs to be defrosted. This saves on the complicated process of making it in store, while customers still get the experience of seeing their pizza base rolled out in front of them. 

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“Basically, we try to deskill the processes as much as we can, to make it easier for our staff to learn,” Dan says. “As a result, we’ve never had to hire specialist staff, we’ve just trained up those we have. Most of them can do everything in the store, which makes organising shifts a lot easier, and makes the staff feel more involved in the project.”

Of course, there’s no point having such a broad offering in the store if it’s not being promoted to customers.

“We tried promoting through leafleting and newspaper ads, but social media gives us better insights back and has a bigger impact and reach for us,” Dan reveals.

“This gives you an understanding of where your customers are. For instance, there’s a town a mile away where people interact with us a lot on Facebook, so we knew to leaflet that town. We wouldn’t have realised that otherwise.”

In terms of posting updates, Dan has found that quality of content is more important than frequency. He measures this by the amount of interaction the posts get.

“People aren’t really interested in seeing specific promotions on Facebook,” he says. “The posts that get responses are things we’re doing differently, or things that involve our staff or the local community.” 

For Dan, this is all part of the challenge of changing the identity of the store, “It’s been interesting times, but it’s starting to take shape now,” he concludes.

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