Imperial Tobacco, IAA, AvailabilityCustomers today simply don’t settle for second best. They want to buy their favourite product and, if they can’t find it in the store, they tend to go elsewhere rather than picking up an alternative. In fact, research carried out by HIM found 46% of shoppers list out-of-stocks as being the reason for failed purchases.

Serge Notay is fully aware that a lack of stock could have a negative impact on shoppers returning to his store, so he has a system in place to prevent it from ­happening.
Neil Rooke, UK public relations executive, and Paul Bird, UK public relations executive of Imperial Tobacco, made a visit to Notay’s Convenience Store in Batley, West Yorkshire, to find out how Serge keeps availability high and customers loyal.

Top Tips

  • Use EPoS to keep track of how much you’re selling so you can order the right amount of product, dedicate more space to top lines, and cut back or delist slow lines. This will prevent you from wasting valuable shelf space.
  • Make sure your staff are educated on the importance of availability so they can assist you in preventing products from being out of stock.
  • Listen to what your customers want and cater for them. A customer who regularly comes in to buy a requested product is likely to spend more in your store.

1 Stock the most popular brands for your customers, basing range on sales records and speaking to suppliers

Serge knows that his most powerful tool in ensuring he orders enough stock to keep his shelves permanently filled is his EPoS system. “We can see how much we’re selling each week so we’ve used it to cut out a lot of the dead lines, which has freed up space for other products,” he says. “Each product in this shop has to earn its place. I go through each category once a month to work out what’s selling and what’s not.”

Neil explains that many independents believe they are doing the best for their customers by stocking as many ranges as possible, and also think it will help increase sales. But he says this approach can lead to allocating little space to the number-one sellers, so the retailer is constantly replenishing the shelves when stocks are low.

“Sometimes it does involve being a little bit ruthless and cutting lines,” he says. “The fact you’ve got EPoS data allows you to do that with evidence rather than a hunch.” Paul asks him whether he keeps up with market trends by speaking to suppliers and reading trade press. Serge says he always keeps an eye out for new lines and gets them in as soon as possible, and adds that his new tobacco gantry was installed as a result of picking up on a market trend towards roll-your-own products. “We were dedicating too much space to cigarettes, which was wasting money,” he says. “Previously, roll-your-own products were all over the place, whereas now customers can clearly see them and it’s working really well. We had a 20% increase in roll your own, so it was very worthwhile.”

2 Listen to your customers’ opinions to help you make good decisions on what to stock

With the shop situated in a residential area away from the main road, it’s vital that Serge listens to what his customers want. “We make sure we’re always in stock of the top 20 lines in each category,” he says, “but the store’s turnover is based on its locality. If I don’t have what my customers want, they won’t come back.”

Serge explains they tried a brand of cigarette that was not well known and they hadn’t stocked before after a customer requested it. “He’s the only person buying it, but we probably get through an outer a week so it earns its facing,” he adds.

The store has also improved its range and availability of milk – one of its core categories – and runs offers to promote it. “We never used to sell skimmed milk because it kept going out of date, but we found a supplier who offered it to us on sale or return and we now have regular customers coming in for it,” Serge says.

Neil says availability is all about having the key products. “One customer who’s prepared to come in and buy a line regularly is enough to justify it, especially if they buy a basket stuff along with it,” he adds.

3 Avoid out-of-stocks at all cost – if shoppers can’t find their favourite brand, they are likely to go elsewhere

A lack of availability from his old symbol group prompted Serge to switch to Nisa three months ago. “We were getting 80% availability, but with Nisa that’s gone up to 99%,” he says. “And that’s helped our sales. We’ve increased our sales by more than 50% since Christmas.”

Neil says that once retailers gain a good reputation for having products in stock, more people come back. He says: “If a convenience store doesn’t have milk for example, they go elsewhere, and if it keeps on happening, they might not return.”

Serge explains that he tries to avoid out-of-stocks by increasing his stock holding, looking at his EPoS data and getting an extra case of a product in if possible.

Paul recommends Serge talk to his reps about reducing out-of-stocks to improve availability further. “For most companies now, reps aren’t just there to sell, but to develop the category by looking at availability and potential problems that could result from insufficient space,” adds Neil.

Neil also suggests Serge makes sure his staff are educated on the importance of availability. “There are businesses where the owner is clued up, but if the staff aren’t trained in the importance of availability, a shop can’t fully deliver it,” he says.

For more store galleries go to See My Shop

See more of Serge’s store below