By redeveloping his store to support local shopping habits, Coventry retailer Gaz Bains has more than doubled his turnover and remains a strong competitor to the local supermarket giants. Steven Lambert reports

When a large Tesco decided to open its doors close to his family’s longstanding CTN store 15 years ago, Gaz Bains knew that drastic changes would be needed to help the business compete against the supermarket giant.

41So drastic, in fact, that the retailer decided to buy the 600sq ft building from the council four years ago, completely demolish it and invest more than £350,000 to build a completely new, modern 1,400 sq ft convenience store in response.

Almost overnight, Gaz saw weekly turnover at his Select & Save Belgrave Stores in Coventry more than double from £9,000 to £19,000, a figure he has been able to maintain to this day despite the extra challenge of a B&M discount store also opening nearby.

“We describe ourselves as a pure convenience store,” says Gaz. “We cater for impulse and distress purchases rather than being a destination store.

“While we’ve been here longer than Tesco, about 20 years now, and have embedded ourselves within the community, the market has evolved and so have shopping habits. That means we’ve had to evolve with it.”

Being in such close proximity to larger stores, Gaz says he and his staff have to be extra disciplined when it comes to store presentation, customer service and making the business “easy to shop”.

He says the same goes for merchandising, a fact exemplified by the fact that Gaz is the current holder of the Independent Achievers Academy award on the category.

“People are only here for a few minutes at a time and they need to be able to find everything they need quickly, especially with Tesco next door,” he says.

People are only here for a few minutes at a time and they need to be able to find everything they need quickly, especially with Tesco next door

EPoS data is invaluable, says Gaz. “We go over it in depth every two weeks and use it along with websites like betterRetailing to help streamline the planograms we get from Select & Save.

“For example, when B&M opened, we noticed more people were going to them for laundry products. So we streamlined out the laundry section and we’ve added more lines to more profitable sections like pet food and chilled.

“We also used to stock about 10 different soft drinks cans but now we only do two or three, after we found that bottles were much more popular.”

With a mix of local residents, “blue collar workers”, and frequent visitors from the nearby hospital and school, Gaz says he has expanded his range of services and products to meet a diverse range of shopper needs.

This included opening a free-to-use cash machine outside the business, which has encouraged more people to spend in the store, and the addition of bread from the local bakers, beer from Byatt’s Brewery located just four miles from the store, Rollover hot dogs and hot and cold food to go from Cuisine de France.

IAA--Gaz-Bains-20Gaz’s food to go section is complemented by the latest addition to the store, a Jack’s Beans coffee machine. Gaz says: “I tried two other coffee machines that didn’t work for us but the Jack’s Beans one seemed better suited to smaller stores.

“We now have a lot of workers using it in the morning and evening, and they’re picking up things like muffins and steak slices alongside their coffee.”

Gaz says he is now working to develop his store even further, starting with his chilled food offering.

He says: “We have five metres of chilled food and I think we need to extend this by another metre so that we can include more ready meals, which customers have been asking for.”

Despite the presence of supermarkets and discounters on his doorstep, Gaz has proven that, with the right investment and planning, independent stores can continue to prosper.

And he has some advice for any retailer in a similar position to his: “If a big store opens next to you, you shouldn’t get disheartened. People expect more from smaller stores now but if you play to your strengths, be different, keep your store clean and tidy and keep on top of your EPoS data you’ll be fine.”

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