It takes constant evolution and a keen customer focus to make sure that your range stays relevant.
Self-styled “traditional Yorkshireman” Ron Ford’s recently opened Budgens in the village of Darfield, near Barnsley, boasts the symbol group’s range of premium beers, functional juices and protein bars, but Ron is the first to admit that he didn’t expect these categories to resonate with his shoppers.
“Our craft lines are picking up. I’m a regular John Smith’s kind of guy, but you can’t just cater to your own tastes,”he explains.
But getting to this stage took time and sacrifice. Ron had his eye on the plot of land where the purpose-built store now stands for some time. It originally had planning permission for eight houses, but when the builder that bought it died and the planning permission lapsed, Ron negotiated a deal with his widow and began the 10-month process of changing the permission over to a convenience store.
“We had five shops and then halfway through buying this shop, I sold a smaller shop to get the funds,” he explains.
The store traded with Costcutter for 16 years, even winning the symbol’s ‘store of the year’ award, before the collapse of Palmer & Harvey. Ron responded by moving all five of his stores to Budgens.
“We didn’t want to move, it was forced upon us, but it’s going well. Our availability is back up to the levels it was five years ago and sales are up 6%. The main benefit is that I feel like I’ve got my life back – I’m working half as many hours now,” he says.
Our craft lines are picking up. I’m a regular John Smith’s kind of guy, but you can’t just cater to your own tastes
Ron’s also able to do this by putting an emphasis on regular staff training. “When we moved over, we spent a month training up the staff on the new systems. I try to visit three stores a day, but I’ve got a team of managers on the sites at all times,” he says.
The only nearby competition Ron faces is a Co-op outside the village, which is a mile’s walk uphill away.
Nevertheless, value is key to his price-sensitive shoppers, who he knows will make the trip anyway if his prices aren’t right. A tri-temperature cabinet with ambient, frozen and chilled lines on one fixture promotes an evening meal deal as soon as you walk in the store, with big multipacks of beer and Booker’s Euro Shopper and Happy Shopper brands ranking among his bestsellers.
“We’re in a mining village. We’re not a Waitrose, we know our shoppers like a bargain and value own-label sales outstrip any of our brands,” he explains.
Where some retailers may use local produce to drive spend, Ron carefully selects suppliers that can reach a certain price.
“We have a local butchers and Yorkshire Milk, which comes from Sheffield. These lines help us provide a good price to our customers,” he explains.
In the next six months, Ron will review and monitor his new range and continue to make small adjustments to evolve. “We’ve had five tough years and now we need to have a break and gather our thoughts without the stress,” he says.
Do your research Ron carried out a report before buying his new site to fully understand his shopper demographic and where the opportunities are. “You have to understand your shopper and the competition,” he says.
Keep your model simple “With five stores, it pays to keep your business model simple and work with a handful of trusted suppliers. We buy 95% from one supplier and the rest are local,” Ron explains.
Become a meal for tonight destination Ron has a dedicated section at the front of his store for food to go. “All of our food to go is in one area in the store. People drive out of their way for our Costa machine,” he says.