Vegetarian ready meals boost basket spend in Budgens Westow Hill
By switching the focus of his store to fresh and chilled, Dipan Patel is taking on the multiples. Daryl Worthington finds out how
Vegetarian ready meals are just one of the ways Dipan Patel has kept abreast of consumer trends. He has also invested in his produce section over time, developing it into a key part of the store.
“Two or three years ago, our produce section made us about £2,500 a month,” says Dipan Patel, from Budgens Westow Hill, in Crystal Palace, London. “Now it’s gone up to £10,000.”
As the first aisle in his store, Dipan knows produce is absolutely vital in making his business a success and helping him stand up to the local competition, which includes Aldi, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Co-op.
“It’s the first thing customers see when they come in. If they see mouldy or rotten things on your shelf, or poor availability, it sets you off on the wrong foot with the customer,” he explains. “If customers have low expectations, you’re not going to get basket spend. You need to be disciplined and make sure your store looks as good as possible.”
Being flexible and adjusting to trends has been key to making this new section work. “Over the winter we sell fewer salad items and fruits. So, last winter we reduced it down and put in an extra bay of ready meals,” he says.
Dipan is aiming to turn his convenience store into the place local customers come for their regular shop. He has found that the busiest times tend to be between 6pm and 10pm, when commuters are making their way home from the city.
“One of the most important changes we’ve made is taking out the cake aisle opposite the produce, and replacing it with another fridge that sells fresh meat. This has grown from being worth £900 to £3,000 a month,” he reveals.
But developing an aisle like this takes patience and careful planning to get it right. “Customers were asking us to stock free-range chicken. Initially, this was a loss leader for us, but now it’s selling out and we no longer need to worry about the wastage,” he admits.
“It’s a case of waiting and doing the best you can with new ranges. Things will come good when customers know you’re stocking something,” continues Dipan.
A big trend for Dipan’s store at the moment is the vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free sections of each category.
“My customers are always asking me to stock a bigger vegetarian and vegan range. One key thing has been stocking vegan and vegetarian ready meals. I don’t make them more expensive than the regular ready meals, and we put them in with the rest,” he reveals.
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Recently, he has had real success selling potted plants from a display outside his shop. “They’re selling well and the margin is good, around 25%,” he says.
“They make the street outside the shop look nice, which our customers have commented on. And, they even come in after they’ve bought them and show us pictures of how they’ve bloomed in their gardens.”
The store is doing well now, but getting to that stage hasn’t always been easy for Dipan and his father.
“There have been ups and downs. The lowest point was before we moved to Budgens in October 2017 and we were down to £16,000 a week. Now we’re averaging £30,000. On a good week, we can go up to £32,000,” he reveals.
“You just need to be patient. It takes time for people to come in, notice what you’re doing and then change their habits to shop with you.
“It’s a case of persevering with it, but it will come good eventually. It just takes time.”
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