Les Gilbert knew his customers were being tempted by discount stores. So he decided to go one better and come up with his own value concept. Steven Lambert investigates…


When Les Gilbert decided to retire his post office business off the back of the Network Transformation Programme, he knew he needed something to fill the expected footfall and sales gap at his CTN in Chard, Somerset – and fast.

“We received our compensation money from the Post Office and we were wondering what to do with the space.

 <figcaption>A tidy and attractive shopfront will be a strong draw for new custom</figcaption>ers” width=”174″ height=”300″> A tidy and attractive shopfront will be a strong draw for new custom</figure><p>“I had been reading a lot about the discounters in the trade press, and a lot of people here were seeking out bargains and looking for value for money.</p><p>“I have two other stores that are with Premier, and I had gone with Booker to see one of its new Family Shopper stores.</p><p>“I liked the idea but it wasn’t quite right for us. So we came up with our own discount concept.”</p><p>This led Les to create Better Buy Local, a fascia that focuses on offering traditional CTN goods coupled with eye-catching offers and a wider range of non-food lines.</p><p>Les says: “As soon as the post office was ripped out, we went to work.</p><p>“We updated everything from top to bottom, getting in new shelving, lighting and flooring as well as a new integral chiller and an extra till, bringing us up to two. We had a local designer come up with our new store sign as well.</p><p>“We were keen to stay open as much as possible during the refit, and we only had to shut for three days. I had budgeted for £20,000 and went slightly over to £25,000, but we’re very happy with the results.”</p><p>With everything in place, Les reopened his new business at the end of March. He says: “We had a soft launch because it is something really new for us and our customers, and we wanted to see initially what would work and what wouldn’t.”</p><p>What has performed well is the store’s new focus on non-food lines, with a wide range at affordable prices drawing in value-conscious shoppers.</p><p>“We had previously decreased our stationery range but now we have added more lines. We work with a company called Wholesale Stationery and any deals we can get from it are passed straight on to our customers.</p><p>[pull_quote_right]We’re very nimble on our feet and we can pretty much change our offers overnight if we wanted to, something that some of the bigger shops will struggle to do themselves[/pull_quote_right]</p><p>“We do the same with the greetings cards we get from Cardline, which are very popular.</p><p>“We’re also very well catered for food and non-food deals from Booker. For instance, we offer a ream of Xerox photocopier paper for £2.99, which is the cheapest price around these parts.”</p><p>Asked where he thinks his offer differs to the wealth of discounters on the high street, Les believes the speed at which he can deliver new deals is his key weapon against larger competition.</p><p>“We’re very nimble on our feet and we can pretty much change our offers overnight if we wanted to, something that some of the bigger shops will struggle to do themselves.”</p><p>Social media has also been a vital tool to get the word out about the new store. Les says: “We’re big users of Facebook and Twitter, and we have been shouting about our deals on there for some time. We now want to develop this and get more of the community involved, promoting local events and such.”</p><p>Despite losing an important service, adapting swiftly to the latest shopping trends has ensured Les has been able to maintain his local and passing trade.</p><p>He says: “Despite the doubters saying we would suffer and lose trade without our post office, we have actually slightly increased footfall and turnover.</p><p>“Also, we now have a format that we can just pick up wand take to another shop if we wanted to expand.</p><p>“I think the key to being a successful retailer comes from being flexible and being open to new ideas. You’ve got to look to the future and keep up with the times.”</p><p> </p><h2>Visit my store</h2><p><iframe style=