After months of evaluation, assessment and ideas sharing, the Independent Achievers Academy announced its overall best shop for 2017 last week. As Tom Gockelen-Kozlowski discovers, there’s much to celebrate in Dave Hiscutt’s Londis Westham Road store

If Waitrose were to place craft beer experts in social media forums to drive beer fans into its stores, it would be considered one of the most forward-thinking examples of “digital engagement” in the grocery market. Similarly, were Clintons or Paperchase to borrow the Caffé Nero-style buy-five-get-one-free loyalty card, they would be setting the bar high on any high street loyalty scheme. And if Tesco was to team up with local colleges to provide their staff with optional digital media qualifications, they’d be pushed right up the rankings of the UK’s best employers. 

So it is even more remarkable that, while all these things are indeed happening in the grocery market today, it is Weymouth-based independent retailer Dave Hiscutt who is doing them, not those big budget chains.

This is the innovative thinking and exacting execution which last week helped his 2,200sq ft Londis Westham Road store to be named the IAA Overall Best Shop for 2017. The city centre store’s top spot was announced after it also took the Effective Ranging and Staff Development awards.   

And there’s much more forward thinking from where that came from: “We look very hard at what is trending. I created bespoke PoS to show that we’d made the store easier to use for people using Slimming World, we’ve also got digital media screens and run competitions between all our sites to see which group of staff can most successfully upsell,” he says.

We created a specific role for social media and marketing and it has given such a lift to the business.

In fact, Dave’s team at Londis Westham Road (eight full time, nine permanent) are brought up again and again when Dave mentions the best elements of his business. He encourages them to suggest new products to stock – his protein range is a recent addition – with customer favourite Grenade Bars at its heart. He also works hard to help improve their skills so they are able to order, stock check and cash up when he isn’t there. A new internal website, meanwhile, gives staff the ability to access holiday requests and handbooks remotely. 

“Our staff are our biggest asset and we fully recognise that,” Dave says, and he has made one particularly eye-catching recruitment this year.  

“We created a specific role for social media and marketing and it has given such a lift to the business. I know I can leave our marketing with Imogen and the shop is being shouted about in a targeted, thoughtful way.” 

But it’s not always easy for Dave to say thank you to his team for their work. “Before the National Living Wage it was much easier to reward staff who were doing great things. Now finances are squeezed I’ve had to find more ways to do that.”  

One solution to this has been linking up with a local college to offer Digital Media courses, which is open to any member of staff who meet the college’s criteria. “We find this sort of investment makes staff far more likely to stay with us,” Dave says.

To further boost the store’s profits new opportunities are continually hunted out. Among this year’s successes is the introduction of American soft drinks which now account for weekly sales of £2,800. It complements his range of craft beers which regularly attracts customers travelling one and a half hours or more to stock up on them. 

The inevitable celebrations at being named the UK’s overall best shop, won’t stop Dave looking for further areas to improve or develop. 

“Me and my team are made up at the news but there’s always something you could be doing better – particularly when the market is in so much flux. We’re currently sharing ideas on a Google document to make the store even better next year.”

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