Success as an independent retailer is dependent on taking opportunities when they arise. Former construction worker Ian Mitchell knows all about this. Having taken over a huge store abandoned by Tesco, he’s been busy building up a loyal customer base. Chris Rolfe reports
When Tesco abandoned plans to open a store in the south Ayrshire town of Girvan in 2011, Ian Mitchell leapt at the chance to take its place.
Leasing the supermarket’s newly-built 4,000sq ft unit, he built a Premier store to serve a mix of local pensioners and families, lorry drivers heading to the nearby ferry terminal and tourists staying at a caravan site two miles away.
Ian already had one store, having bought his first shop in 1996 in the village of Drongan, 25 miles from Girvan.
“I was in construction but wanted to start my own business,” he says.
After joining Premier in 2000, he doubled the then 500sq ft store in size. This experience gave him confidence to embark on his new project in Girvan.
“Girvan was a shell when I took it over, but I thought I could make it into a really good store,” says Ian.
He rebuilt the front and inside. But knowing that the large-store tobacco display ban would come into force the following year, he reduced floor space to just below 3,000sq ft to buy three years’ grace to establish the store with an open gantry.
“It was hard to open such a big store because we were starting from zero, but I went to Booker and said ‘let’s fill it’. We worked to plan the stock and shelving and built the store up,” he says.
Today, strong sellers include fresh and chilled produce. Ian stocks core fruit and veg lines and a good selection of fresh meat.
Local firms supply Scottish produce such as haggis, neeps and tatties, which are popular with tourists, and three-quarter pound pies, one pound steak pies and round potato scones that appeal to local customers too.
Ian says the expanding range of Butcher’s Market lines is helping him grow sales, and he has high hopes that Booker’s acquisition of Londis, with its strong reputation for fresh and chilled, will help still further.
The store’s wide range of £1 products, introduced last year, is another big footfall driver, and Ian sells up to 600 lines per week, with some unexpected bestsellers.
“When Booker launched Family Shopper, I took on the full range from discount supplier OTL and since then, hair dye, earrings, pizza dishes, wallpaper paste and air fresheners are really popular,” he says. “They earn us 40% margins too.”
Mega Deals have also proved a hit with cash-conscious customers. Ian used the 1,000sq ft left from the original shop floor for storage to hold promotional stock he bulk-orders to keep deals running for up to three months.
“When Booker launched Family Shopper, I took on the full range from discount supplier OTL and since then, hair dye, earrings, pizza dishes, wallpaper paste and air fresheners are really popular”
“When sugar was on sale at 30p I bought a whole pallet. And at the moment, Regina toilet roll is on at £2.19 for a 12-pack. That’s a better deal than you’d find in a supermarket and I’m selling around 100 units a week,” he says. “People are buying more in convenience stores more often, and our basket spend is up to £6.19.”
Ian has used strong community links to build loyalty to his stores. Football, golf and fishing teams have been sponsored, and when lack of funding caused a Christmas party for 300 pensioners to be cancelled, Ian came to the rescue by hiring a hall and organising a meal. He also sponsors a healthy eating award with a Drongan primary school and is supporting a family day in the village this summer.
With his Girvan store now well established, Ian has ambitious plans to build his empire.
First is a refit at Drongan, with a new ceiling and fascia due to be fitted this month and a post office also arriving on 21 July. This will be followed by a full refit for Ian’s third store – a 1,900sq ft Premier in Ayr which he bought last year. And when these projects are completed, Ian is already planning a refresh at Girvan. Ultimately, his aim is to open more stores. “Six would be great,” says Ian. “In retail, you’ve got to keep moving and refreshing.”
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