Becoming an Independent Achievers Academy finalist is no easy task.

After redeveloping his shop three years ago, Billy Kinder made the top 100 best stores in the country in both 2014 and 2015, and this year he has made the final for the IAA’s merchandising category.

Billy has owned the store for 14 years, but the business dates back more than 40.

Location: Northampton

Hours: 7am-9pm Mon-Sat; 8am-7pm Sun

Staff: Four full-time, three
part-time

Size: 2,000sq ft

Trading since: August 2002

Style: A c-store in the centre of a residential area. The nearest competition is a Tesco Express more than half a mile away.

When he redeveloped the shop he switched from Costcutter to Today’s, built an extension and introduced more lines. “I had a customer who has lived here for 40 years tell me that this shop is the best it’s ever been. It made me incredibly proud to hear that,” he says.

Like many stores, the living wage has had a significant impact on Billy’s business, but by tightening his merchandising principles, he has managed to make up the increased costs.

“The only thing that can counteract the living wage increase is more sales, so we’ve improved the way we merchandise to get a little bit extra from our customers,” he says. “We’ve started putting cooking sauces with the fresh meat to get people to spend more, and it works.”

A lot of his shoppers only visit for one or two items, but by prioritising working with suppliers, such as Nestlé, on his breakfast and petcare sections, he has noticed a 10% increase in sales.

As well as new grocery products, the redevelopment included a £1 zone, which caters for his area’s value-hungry customers. “We’ve always had items priced at £1, but never a dedicated zone,” he says. “It’s a real shame we never jumped on that a long time ago.”

Recently, Billy has been investigating new ways to use technology to drive sales, with a view to launch a Facebook and Twitter presence in the coming weeks. The accounts will be the responsibility of a staff member. “We always take feedback from staff as well,” he says. “We keep a pad behind the counter and jot down any items we get asked for, but we don’t often get caught out.”

Billy’s store is the hub of a residential area, with the nearest competition more than half a mile away. This means he has to cater for his shoppers’ wider needs and he stocks a range of haberdashery and fixings to meet this challenge.

“We’ve got nails, cable clips, fuses. It’s dead handy if you run out of it at home but your local store stocks it. Social media will help us push that even more,” says Billy.

Offering shoppers value is hugely important to Billy and he has teamed up with BigDL to give his shoppers deals. He held a launch event last month to promote what the app offers. “With BigDL, shoppers don’t have to carry loads of vouchers and you can offer incentives on the spot,” he explains.

This focus on value has gone a long way to help him win the hearts of his community. Every year the store has a Father Christmas visit to give sweets to the children and Billy often supports schools with raffles. “Last year we received a local award for helping people in the community,” he says.

Billy’s hoping to add the award for merchandising to his accolades when the IAA results are announced on December 1. “It’s been a lot of hard work, but we’ve managed to achieve it,” he says.