Mital Morar’s Deansgate store fridge chiller

General Store Deansgate

57 Great Ancoats Street, Manchester, M4 5AB

The challenges surrounding supply chains, rising costs and meeting an ever-growing customer demand from a diverse range of core and premium lines cannot be overstated.

Despite this, there’s an opportunity to engage with consumers and transform the convenience retail experience, and one way of doing so is emphasising free space and a calm environment by moving away from product promotion.

Mital Morar’s General Stores Deansgate in Manchester, which is part of the Store Group, is designed to create a local offering that includes nearby suppliers and food traders and an independent local value chain.

Working to a mantra of ‘I only came in for milk’, the store reimagines what customers expect from a convenience store, to go beyond their everyday needs. General Stores balances the essential and the premium, and caters to both.

The store is flanked by some of the city’s most modern new builds, and its interior is adorned with iconography, messages and LED lighting, designed to help the customer journey, from the entrance to checkout, in a space where they wish to spend time in.

Instead of overstocking the store, one-fifth is devoted to free space, and the only window display is of baked beans, a reminder that it still stocks the essentials.

According to Morar, a store’s design is critical to meeting the needs and demands of its local market, and by making the most of space.

However, this does raise questions over stock, especially fresh produce, and makes managing supply chains more challenging.

Morar says it can be a challenge and the answer will be in what business model a retailer wants to follow.

For General Stores Deansgate, this means prioritising customers’ experiences and accommodating all demands, be they essential needs or organic, artisanal or “aspirational”, and holding true to its mantra.

Premium and essential

Customers are prioritising price and value in today’s climate, according to Morar, but he says this is an opportunity for independent retailers.

“Not only do you get your milk, but you can also get a little bit more than what you expected in all areas of our shop,” he says.

Stocking a wide range means retailers need to closely examine their offering, Morar says. Being data-savvy is critical, and the premium and essential offerings have to be balanced. “We’ve got an excellent balance of everyday groceries and premium products. Just enough to give us a USP,” he says.

“Especially hand-made barista locally roasted coffee, for example. It’s always being reviewed, and the relationships and supply-chain partners we make are really valuable to us, especially the smaller, local, more passionate suppliers.”

Designed to be a destination

Morar worked with a local design agency to transform the store into a destination hub known for having excellent and unparalleled customer experience, with a strong focus on lifestyle that is in keeping with the modern, accessible surroundings in Deansgate.

“We hired a design house to help support the fitout journey,” Morar explains. “A company in Manchester called Youth Studio helped us build our vision.”

According to Morar, the transformation has resulted in the store evolving from “essentially a food and drink” outlet to “a space where we are talking about fashion layouts and having a very clean aesthetic”.

He adds: “For me, designing a space is paramount because it says more about me and what I’m about and what I stand for. A lot of the things that we do are driven by passion.”

The impact of the cost-of-living crisis

Even with the emphasis on design and creating the right environment, rising costs and inflation means retailers need to prioritise pricing and value, even as they offer premium goods.

Morar says retail can succeed and “maintain its position” in uncertain times because it deals with “necessary goods”.

“It will be interesting to see how [the cost-of-living crisis] plays out,” he says, before saying that retailers are necessary for people on a budget – and this requires care when setting prices.

“People need our offering” he says. “That means we always need to be measured and careful about pricing and understand what people are going through, but ultimately, I’m still offering products at same price as my competitor, as best as I can. We are undergoing a full review and asking, ‘What is our range? What is our basic offering? What is our core?’ This means looking at a business from an ordering, planning and merchandising perspective.”

Space, design and stock

“It’s always a quandary for retailers regarding space and design,” Morar says when asked how a store’s space and design can improve its local supply chain and whether this affects his ordering strategy. “It all comes down to the model you adopt.”

“If you’ve got the space and time, buying in bulk is very useful, and if you’ve got limited space, ordering just in time can also mean you are very dynamic.”

According to Morar, General Stores has to be “very balanced” in its approach over space and stock, but that being “100% independent with no backers” allows that freedom.

However, when asked if he thinks if more retailers should examine how they use space in their store, he said doing so would let them “create their own personality and style, and voice with their stores”, as well as meet customers’ demands.

Read more of our store profiles where we visit independent convenience retailers to showcase their fresh ideas and unique insights