Meeting fellow retailers and visiting their stores is the best way to come up with new ideas and also helps you to look at what you do in your own store with a fresh pair of eyes. Be sure you take advantage of opportunities.

Earlier this year I went to my first Budgens conference, which was a great event because I learned about the new ways the company is helping retailers and got to network and share ideas with other store owners.

rn-house-ad1We learned about how to make our stores different from the competition by generating in-store theatre, raising our profile, working with local companies, running promotions and supporting our local customers. We were encouraged to think like a customer and act like a retailer.

One of the highlights for me was discussing best practice with other retailers, especially because so many people were willing to share their knowledge and ideas.

Paul Gardner from Islington, for example, won the Budgens Store of the Year award and his ideas were really inspiring.

I actually went to visit his store a few weeks ago and seeing what he does made me realise that I could change the way I work and reduce our waste. That is something I’ve worked on in Londis, but not in Budgens.

Seeing his store also highlighted how I can put the right products and promotions in the right places and guide customers on a journey around the store.

He focuses on meat and fresh products, for example. He cuts up fruit samples for customers to taste, with cooking and serving suggestions. That is great because it highlights the quality of his produce and gets customers interacting with it. Another retailer talked about doing live cookery demonstrations and this makes me want to do more sampling in my store and raise awareness of my business.

There were also workshops on store and staff standards. I now want to focus more closely on our range and availability and introduce more local products. It helps that Budgens has recently gone through a system change that has improved ordering and delivery notes.

I also want to improve my training. Budgens has just launched online training so I can involve all my staff in that.

Other people talked about how to drive footfall and I think I could do this through local ads, working with suppliers and running targeted promotions.

We can look at our busiest days and times, for example, then put on offers for the first 100 customers through the door, or focus on activity for quieter periods to get to know new customers.

We could build habits and trade that way and it would help us to offer a more personal service. I want us to be known for that.

Our next task is to get ready for the summer. This will be my first full summer in Budgens and having last year’s sales records is invaluable.

We are very near to the beach and get a lot of tourists visiting, so we had a lot of beach toys, for example.

But there isn’t much of a market for them in this store because many other stores around here also stock them, so I’ll focus on something else.

It’s important to get summer stock such as barbecue products out early so that people know we have them available when the sun comes out.

I’m considering making up picnic baskets and putting them on a deal. I’d like to do something on the beach too, maybe selling products directly or acting as a wholesaler and doing a profit-share with other local firms.

If the summer ever arrives, it will be good to get the store involved in doing something a little unusual.