In the first of a three-part series, Steve Denham, associate editor of betterRetailing.com shares the lessons he learned on a retail study tour in Coventry.

When betterRetailing.com retailer contributor Jai Singh told me that he was going to be at the NEC for a trade show, I took the opportunity to organise a visit to two Independent Achievers Academy-wining stores just down the road in Coventry.

At the NEC we met up with Simply Fresh retailer Avtar (Sid) Sidhu and he joined us on the trip to Malcolm’s Nisa Local in Tile Hill, run by Paul and Pinda Cheema, and One Stop Mount Nod, run by the Uppal brothers Joga and Aman.

I have visited both stores several times, and know that both stores offer different opportunities to learn about best practice in convenience retailing. However, visiting these stores in the company of current retailers like Jai and Sid raised different topics from those I had previously thought about when visiting by myself.

Although Paul and Pinda Cheema boast more experience than Aman and Joga Uppal, the ideas shared in both stores had some striking similarities.

There are three key focus areas that I think it’s important to focus on:

Range

The Cheemas have an ongoing project to significantly reduce the number of lines they stock. This provides space for new products and more facings for the remaining products that are leading to higher sales. The Uppals are guided by One Stop to operate with the range of products that their customers need.

Action point: Search out the poor performing lines in your store and deal with them to make space for better selling lines and new products.

Change

I have visited Malcolm’s regularly for the past three years and there have been changes to see every time. Change is a constant process for the Cheema brothers. The One Stop model means that any layout changes need franchise partner involvement so can take a little longer to bring about. As Joga said to me: “We know that change is key to success. Although we were recognised for Store Layout at the IAA Gala Dinner last year, we know we cannot afford to rest on our laurels.”

Action point: If your store looks the same as it did last year, it’s time to consider if it is still fit for today.

Dealing with failure

Both businesses are now successful, but both families say that they have had their share of failure. Both Pinda and Joga shared stories of the significant challenges they have experienced. Both state that it is not the failure that would have destroyed their stores, but the failure to recognise, deal with it and learn the lessons that kill a business.

Action point: Like Jai and Sid, make sure that you get out of your store and talk retail with people who can inspire you.

See more: Part 2: Go Local Extra retailer Jai Singh discusses what he took from the day.