Opening your first shop is a daunting prospect at the best of times, let alone at the height of a financial crisis and with a new baby too, but that is exactly what Scott Graham did when he took on McLeish in Inverurie in 2009. Olivia Gagan reports

With 20 years of retail work already under his belt, Scott Graham was no newcomer to running a store. His experience, however, was in working for high-street giants such as Boots and Clintons.  

So, when he decided to make the move into convenience and buy a store whose previous owners had gone into administration, his friends and family were concerned.

“Everyone thought I was off my head,” Scott says.

But he was convinced the business had profit potential, most notably through the previous occupants’ focus on fresh, locally sourced food.

“It was very much a deli type operation,” says Scott. “It had a premium feel – there were three metres of local shortbread, for example. The customers were primarily  looking for gifts, though. In the morning, workmen would never have used the store.”

From this blueprint, and with this potential additional customer base in mind, Scott decided to steer the store into a convenience format, while maintaining its upmarket twist and the local, fresh element.

This meant keeping the wide variety of fresh food – food-to-go still makes up 25% of the shop’s floor space today – but making the overall offer better fit the needs of local office workers, site workers and schoolchildren.

“There was a strong foodie element to the store, so we adapted some of those practices. The previous owners made sandwiches, so we extended that into a wider lunchtime offer of salads, wraps, baguettes and pasta.”

Crucially, Scott says, he decided to keep food to go production largely in-house. 

“It’s very labour intensive,” he admits. “There are three staff behind the deli, but the margin is there to support that.”

In fact, home-made sandwiches and salads have proved to be his biggest margin-makers. 

“A sandwich might cost us £1 to make, but we can sell it at £2.40. We started off with a dozen varieties of sandwich, and we now do meal deals which change seasonally.”

Looking ahead, Scott plans to extend his sales beyond the current breakfast and lunchtime busy times – by persuading afternoon shoppers to pick up local meat and sauces for their evening meals, for example.

Other fresh food is mainly sourced locally. Around 20 local suppliers, from butchers to bakers, supply fresh meat and bread, cakes and pastries. KeyStore and Nisa then provide ambient and chilled goods, while a Cuisine de France unit and a Tchibo coffee machine boost the variety of takeaway options for customers. 

When Scott started, McLeish was the only shop in the area offering takeaway coffee. There are now 38 places in Inverurie to pick up a hot drink so he has adjusted his pricing to suit. “We price our drinks at £1.80, not £2.10 as recommended by Tchibo, and we sell 150 cups a day,” he says. 

This focus on locally made food to go combined with convenience store essentials has paid off. In the week Scott opened, his turnover was £6,800. Now it stands at £32,000 a week, with an average basket spend of £4.60. Locals no longer see the store as a deli, and Scott’s busiest times are between 6am-8am and 12pm-2pm as he attracts local professionals. Around 200 schoolchildren visit the store each day, too, picking up snacks and sweets. 

Looking ahead, Scott plans to extend his sales beyond the current breakfast and lunchtime busy times – by persuading afternoon shoppers to pick up local meat and sauces for their evening meals, for example. He is also keen to improve his cross-category merchandising. 

None of Scott’s success or future plans would be possible without his loyal and growing team of staff, he says. He employs 18 people, who fulfil the equivalent of six or eight full-time roles. 

“Most of my staff have been with me since the beginning,” he says. “Retail is about planning, working with the seasons, changing promotions, but it’s also about people – managing them, helping to get the best out of them, and therefore the best of your store.” 

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