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Having been trading for more than 30 years, Rowes Newsmarket Wantage in Oxfordshire, has become an institution in its community, but that doesn’t mean that owners Mike and Lyn Rowe are resting on their laurels.
They’ve recently completed a major refit of the store, installing a new floor, ceiling, lighting, refrigeration, shelving, shop front and more.
“We’ve spruced up the whole shop,” says Mike. “It’s a major investment, but you’ve got to do it now and then. We do minor refits every three-to-five years; I think it’s 10 years since we last did a major one.
“It’s not that the store looked bad before, but we knew we needed a refit to bring it to the standards we wanted, and also that customers expect these days.”
Chilled is a growing category for Rowes Newsmarket, so unsurprisingly that was a big focus of the refit. A new walk-in freezer, large enough to store cages of excess milk, has replaced the chest freezers that used to sit in the store room.
“Because it’s a growing area for us, we’ve increased the metres of chilled space in the shop,” says Mike. In total, they added an additional 3.5 metres of refrigeration to their chilled food offer. They’ve also introduced a selection of ‘meal for tonight’ products for under £5.
So far, the shop’s customers are responding well to the changes. “It’s always a risk when you refit, because there are no guarantees,” explains Mike. “It’s early days – we finished roughly before Christmas, but we’ve seen a 16-20% sales increase. Our customers really like it. We’ve always been very easy to shop, but we’ve made it even more so. We’ve widened the aisles where we can to make it more comfortable.”
Other changes include improving the lighting, softening colours used in store and lowering the gondola heights at the front of the shop to make the whole store feel bigger.
“The only downside is that because all our refrigeration and freezers are now remote, we’ve had a few comments from customers that the shop now feels a bit too cold. We might have to try to do something about that, but I’m sure when summer comes, they’ll be flocking to us,” says Mike.
Alongside the refit, Rowes Newsmarket has also started stocking a wide variety of Co-op products, something else which has been popular with their customers, as well as making Mike and Lyn’s lives easier.
“Our customers found it strange at first, asking why we were stocking Co-op products, but now they don’t ask, they just shop the shop,” Mike reveals.
“We really struggled for about four months after the demise of Palmer & Harvey at the end of 2017.
“We were left to scratch around and find suppliers ourselves, using Booker and Bestway. It was a nightmare, but thankfully that’s over now and hopefully it’ll all be positive.”
Looking forward, Mike and Lyn are still searching for new ways to save money and improve their store. “Part of the refit was installing energy-saving devices, so more LED lighting, for example. We’re looking at a company that saves you energy on your compressors, installing a device that will save 20-25% on our energy bills, but it’s just research at the moment.”
Wantage is a market town, and Rowes Newsmarket does have competition to deal with. Fortunately, they’ve found solutions to give them an advantage. One of their most popular categories is their off-licence, particularly beer and wine, and cider in the summer. They’ve worked to turn this to their benefit.
“We chill everything, except for the red wine, of course. It’s surprising how many places, especially around us, don’t chill their beer and wine. It’s very popular, people can buy it ready to consume. We’ve got a Waitrose opposite us and they don’t chill anything. It’s definitely an advantage.”