Last month, top retailers and suppliers joined retailer Mital Morar at Ancoats General Store in Manchester for the Independent Achievers Academy’s retail study day.
Located near Manchester’s hipster Northern Quarter, Mital Morar’s Ancoats General Store is at the forefront of convenience retail innovation.
Last year, it was recognised as a category star by the Independent Achievers Academy because of its focus on trends and emerging areas like food to go.
Mital’s store is a reflection of the local young, affluent area. He employs skilled baristas to make and serve fresh coffee, has direct relationships with craft brewers and local suppliers, and caters for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets.
All this is offered next to more traditional convenience categories. Newspapers, soft drinks, and confectionery are merchandised in high-footfall locations, but are tailored to attract the specific shoppers that Mital is targeting.
Here we outline what we learned in Mital’s store on our retail study day.
Lesson 1: offer a point of difference
Despite catering to niche diets, mainstream brands still form a large part of Mital’s sales. “We try to offer everything that customers would expect, but then we do our own thing alongside it,” he says.
His merchandising rests upon an assumption that his customers will search for specific, well-known brands, but may be tempted if they spot something niche in a noticeable place. Despite having several metres of craft beer, mainstream lagers are still present, but altogether in one chiller. “If people want a product like that, they’ll find it,” he explains.
Lesson 2: get your shoppers to stay for longer
A long, chipboard table stretches from the entrance to the coffee counter. Customers can enjoy a selection of drinks, from traditional choices like espressos and smoothies to more trendy options like cortados and charcoal lattes.
Rather than cramming as much shelf space in as possible, Mital is devoting a sizeable area to providing a place to sit.
“The table encourages people to stay for longer and while they are there, they are looking at what else they can buy,” says Sandeep Hedge, Procter & Gamble convenience, wholesale & club channel sales director.
Lesson 3: reflect your local area
“Nothing in this shop is done by accident,” Mital says. Though craft beer, organic pet food and vegan cakes might not be right for everyone, the important thing is to make sure every part of your store is tailored to the area. The music on the shop radio, pot plants decorating the windows and gig posters on the walls all contribute to the ambience that brings in the younger shoppers that the shop is chasing.
Flexibility is a key part of the design so that the team can keep it feeling fresh. For example, the lighting is on tracks, which means they can be moved around to create new displays easily.
Handwritten price flashes can look unprofessional in convenience stores, but Ancoats General Store uses local artists to create stylish notes that add to the store’s creative feel.
Lesson 4: host events in store
The smell of bao pork buns and katsu curry hit you as soon as you enter the store. Every Thursday, the shop hosts a food event – Scrancoats – by teaming up with different street food vendors. The week we visited, it was vendor Manzuko’s turn, which means ‘satisfaction’ in Japanese.
Morar says: “Retailers can get caught up with trying to make their own food to go in store to increase their margin. I find it’s better to focus on what we do well, which is retail, and make these local partnerships.”
The shop also hosts an art event, which encourages attendees to draw on the tables, quiz nights and shop parties, where they can serve pints of beer from the café.
Lesson 5: appeal to a new generation
“Getting young adults and middle-aged customers is a big challenge for us, but this is something that Mital is doing very well,” says Powys retailer Trudy Davies. The majority of Mital’s shoppers fall within a young, affluent demographic.
Cheshire retailer Ian Handley adds: “I’m guilty of looking at products and deciding to stock them based on whether I’d buy them, but perhaps that’s the wrong way to do it.”
“Younger people look at treating themselves more frequently. I might save up for a car, but younger people want smaller treats,” Trudy adds.