Bal Sindhu’s shop sits on the crossroads of a busy street in the heart of Wolverhampton city centre.
There is an almost endless supply of passing trade during the day, but with so many competitors in the same street, the problem facing him has been how to make shoppers choose his store over the others.
His biggest categories are alcohol, confectionery and soft drinks – all of which offer good margins, and he decided joining a symbol group was the key to unlocking his shop’s potential.
Bal worked with East End Foods Cash & Carry to get his transformation to Lifestyle Express underway. Since the refit at the beginning of December the perception of the store has changed considerably.
“The idea was always to join a symbol group and get a refurbishment,” says Bal.
“Before you could actually hear people walking past and saying let’s go to Spar or the Co-op instead – it really hurt us. Our range and prices were better but we didn’t have the name or the look.
“Now it looks like a new shop and people stop and ask how long we’ve been here.”
Smoke & Wine Stores
Hours: 7.30am-7.30pm Monday to Saturday, 11am-4pm Sunday
Size: 250sq ft
Trading started: September 2012
Style: A small off-licence on a busy street in the heart of Wolverhampton city centre. Lots of passing trade and lots of immediate competitors including other symbol groups, unaffiliated retailers and multiples.
One of the best decisions he has made was to work with Lifestyle Express and suppliers like Coca-Cola Enterprises on his merchandising.
“CCE set up the fridge perfectly,” he says.
His soft drinks range uses shelving with springs that push the bottles to the front, making the range look full all the time. Since changing, his soft drinks sales have more than doubled.
1) Work with suppliers. Since teaming up with Coca-Cola Enterprises on merchandising, Bal’s soft drink sales have more than doubled.
2) Join a symbol group. The shop now has the look and feel that appeals to Bal’s customers and the promotions are helping him beat Poundland on price (e.g. Coca-Cola 500ml two-for-£1.50)
3) Have a clear policy on antisocial behaviour – it will improve your store as a place to shop. Bal still has to bar up to four people a week. “Getting it right is a fine line, but you have to be clear that if people come into your shop, some things are not acceptable,” he says.
The store also flows better now, so that customers who pick up a soft drink when they come in automatically follow the path round to the crisps and snacks section.
Lifestyle Express’ promotions have been a big success with Bal’s customers – particularly as he can now boast special offers that trump the nearby Poundland store for prices.
“You would normally expect that in a city centre you could charge a slightly higher price, but because there is so much competition we have to be very competitive,” he says.
Two-for-£1.50 deals on 500ml bottles of Coca-Cola, Tango and Pepsi, and two-for-80p deals on Cadbury countlines have been hits. Some customers who started buying these products because of the promotion have returned and kept on buying them at full retail price.
Bal’s customers include office workers, passing trade and local residents, and for this last group he has found it pays to have a solid and reliable PayPoint offer.
“There are some other retailers around here who have PayPoint but just don’t use it – we are quite well known as a shop with PayPoint and people know they can use it here without any issues.”
The store is taking more than £10,000 a week but he believes there is scope to grow this to £14,000 – especially when the long-term road works in Queen Street eventually come to an end.
His sole member of staff, Sue Hamilton, worked at the shop before he took over and her knowledge of the customers and the store is invaluable.
Already Bal is thinking about buying a second shop and he is looking to have identified a potential site by next summer. But the immediate priority is increasing footfall in his existing store, and his next tweak might be to put up an extra sign advertising the alcohol and soft drinks offer. In a crowded marketplace it never hurts to be the one that shouts loudest.