Amarjit ‘Ammo’ Bhdaal remembers the exact moment he discovered how he could convince more people to shop with him instead of his supermarket rivals.
“It was back in 2008 and my wife, Sharan, had asked me to pick up something for dinner on the way home.
“I wasn’t near our shop at the time, so I went to the Co-op close by and picked up some spaghetti, tomato and mince,” says Ammo, who owns Spar Auckley, a 2,400sq ft store in Doncaster.
“It was only later that I realised there were plenty of other convenience stores I could have gone to, but I went straight to the Co-op because, walking in, your first impression is that you can get everything you need there.
“I thought to myself, ‘this is what we need to introduce to our store’.”
Ammo was in a good position to innovate his store, having rescued it from the brink of closure a decade before.
He explains: “I had been in convenience retailing since 1984 but had become disillusioned and got a job at BT in 1991.
“But in 2002, one of our family’s shops was in danger of going bankrupt and I came in to help.”
Having decided to “bite the bullet”, Ammo took over the store and slowly but surely restored trust and investment from suppliers and the bank.
With stronger foundations in place, he has spent the past few years building his vision of the perfect convenience store, applying his own initiatives and adapting profitable schemes he has seen in other shops to set himself apart from the competition.
“It’s very easy to go into another store and critique it, but I look at it a different way and try to take away two or three ideas that we can use in our shop.”
One innovation that has really taken off with customers has been the introduction of miniature trolleys for children.
Ammo says: “We saw them in a catalogue and thought we would buy one and see how it went. Eventually, kids were gettingupset when it was being used, and customers kept asking us if we were the store that had the small trolleys, so we bought three more.
“Kids will put things like chocolate in their own trolleys and, more often than not, their parents will end up paying for them at the till.”
By focusing on creating a one-stop shop, Ammo adds that his average basket spend has nearly doubled from £3.28 to £5.60 over the last two years, something he attributes largely to expanding the number of “meal solutions” in the shop.
He has dedicated the majority of his first aisle to chilled meat, fresh fruit and veg and ready meals, while the opposite aisle is made up primarily of pastas and sauces to target a growing number of shoppers cooking at home.
“Our customers are shopping little and often and are buying ingredients to stretch out over the course of a week, so we have expanded this area. “It also looks more appealing and fits into our ‘you can buy everything here’ message.
“Our daytime sales are going through the roof, up by around 60%. We’ve now added a second lot of trolleys and baskets at the end of the first aisle, in case people pick up a small basket but then decide to do a bigger shop.”
Food to go has also been a surprise hit in the store: “We have little to no passing trade and I was dubious about introducing it as the equipment was going to cost around £14,000.
“Instead, we bought second-hand equipment for about £5,000, and now we’re selling around 600 bacon sizzlers a week and lots of French bread pizza, with profit margins of about 30%.
“I’m always looking out for new ways of improving the business and it’s the thing I really enjoy most about retailing.”