Built on the site of the 16th century battle of Pinkie Cleugh, Pinkie Farm Convenience Store has a lot of history, but Colin Smith has taken it into the future.
Location: Musselburgh, East Lothian
Hours: 6am-10pm Mon-Sun
Staff: 25 full and part-time
Size: 4,500sq ft
Trading started: May 2014
Style: A newly-built Nisa Local under the Pinkie Farm Convenience brand. Located in a residential area, the store opened as a traditional farm shop in 1960.
For more than 50 years it was a traditional farm shop, but it had become run down, so Colin stepped in last year. Although he had no retailing experience when he took it over, he used the knowledge gained through 18 years of working in wholesale to turn the shop into an award-winning Nisa Local.
“When the previous owners retired, they wanted to keep the land in independent hands, despite multiples showing interest,” he says. “The shop was demolished and my vision was created.”
His vision was to maintain a strong ethos, loyal to the farm shop values, but tailored to the modern shopper.
Divided into three sections – and using signage he designed himself – the store caters to current habits: the early morning commuter, the family shopper, and food to go. Wooden signage is used for farm shop elements of the store, while convenience aisles are decked out in slate.
Remember the past: Colin sent a questionnaire to 3,000 residents introducing the new store and asking what they wanted him to keep from the previous one. He has learnt what was popular to retain customer loyalty.
Plan for the future: In an attempt to future-proof his store, Colin has ensured each aisle has electricity; has built public toilets; and plans to expand his food to go range with a kitchen to make ready meals.
Competitive doesn’t mean cheap: “You don’t need to make everything as cheap as possible,” Colin says. His milk is £1.19, because he believes in focusing on his main promotions, not on cutting his margins.
“Out back I plan to install a kitchen,” he says. “We already make our own sandwiches and St Stephen’s bakery provides some goods, but we will make ready meals on-site.”
The store has been shaped through gathering feedback from the community and understanding their needs. Colin sought the knowledge of residents by distributing 3,000 leaflets in the local area before opening.
He has also dedicated part of the store space to community groups. Currently the foyer is used for showcasing his plant selection, but local theatre groups and school choirs have used it previously to raise money for charity.
“The foyer isn’t just for selling, it’s a chance to demonstrate our connection with the community,” he explains. “The nearby primary school has already painted a mural for the battle of Pinkie out-front and I plan to clearly indicate that anyone can use the space for community work.”
Colin had already gained full support of potential customers with 850 Facebook likes before opening the doors. He claimed it was simply because the customers were loyal to the previous store and he kept them informed while he was refitting the shop.
He learnt from the loyal customer base that they still wanted a focus on local produce and competitive prices. Sourcing local produce can be difficult, Colin says, but it was the demand for a fish van that proved the hardest struggle.
“I source as many local products as I can, but it’s hard to come by Scottish strawberries,” he says. “The customers really wanted a fish van – it was tough to negotiate and understand each other’s needs but we finally struck a deal.”
At his previous role in wholesale, Colin helped retailers build better businesses, but he’s pleased he can finally experience the other side.
“I’m proud that I’ve taken my 18 years of helping retailers and put it into practice,” he says. “This opportunity seemed like a great fit and I’ve had great support.”
Since the store transformation, his sales have increased by 30% and he says he has “future-proofed” it by building public toilets and ensuring each aisle has power so there’s the possibility of installing televisions for promotions and to add in-store theatre. He also plans to expand his food to go.
After just a year, the store has already achieved a lot and with Colin at the helm, there’s no doubt it has another exciting year ahead.