Cool cocktail bar Premier Morley

Every retailer wants to increase the number of people coming into their store, but with only so many people living within easy reach, there is a challenge for stores to attract people from beyond their own catchment area. One way to draw in traffic from further afield is to play the long game of a consistent quality offering and let word of mouth do its work.

Ian Lewis, from Spar Minster Lovell in Witney, Oxfordshire, is often told by customers that they have travelled past three other stores to buy things from him, driven by a strong reputation online and with his customers.

“They’ll tell us we have everything they need and that’s why they come to us,” he says. “They know the quality is here. I had a business owner tell me that if he sends his team to Oxford, he directs them to come out of their way to my store.”

Offering products that people can’t get elsewhere is another way to generate a far-reaching reputation. Customers know they can access the uniquely premium wine selection that Dean Holborn offers at his two stores in Surrey. The Cook meals offered by Jack Matthews’ Bradley’s Supermarket in Quorn, Leicestershire, aren’t available anywhere else within a five-mile radius. AJ Singh’s Premier Morley store in Leeds has a cocktail bar, a popcorn machine, its own vaping line and more, for which customers are willing to travel considerable distances.

“We didn’t do a big launch and we didn’t know how it would go down, but it took off so well. At first, we didn’t tell people it was our brand, but once we did, we got more traction because we got more customer loyalty from people who keep coming back,” says Singh.

It isn’t enough, though, to have these special things in your store. You have to shout about them, using social media, local press and encouraging customers to tell their friends. If word is to get out, you have to push it.

Offer something special

Spar Bala store in Gwynedd

Emma Atkinson recently refitted her Spar Bala store in Gwynedd, removing a Subway bar and introducing a deli that offers breakfasts, salads, lunches, curries, cottage pies, pizzas, scones, baguettes and more on a food-to-go basis. Everything is made on the premises, which has required more staff members, but it has grown customer footfall and basket spend, with people coming from further afield.

“The response has been great, but until you come in and see it, you can’t know how good it is. I’ve had people come in and say that they had been to a local café, but would have come to us if they’d known what was here. We’ve got a page on Facebook and Instagram, and when we did a Sunday lunch offer I took a picture of the carvery we had out and put it online. That brought in lots of people who didn’t know we had it,” Atkinson says.

Use social media

Ian Lewis from Spar Minster Lovell in Witney, Oxfordshire

In order to get word out about what he’s offering to a wider audience, Ian Lewis, from Spar Minster Lovell in Witney, Oxfordshire, uses social media.

The pandemic resulted in his Facebook following skyrocketing, providing him with a free marketing platform for his store.

Whereas before, a small village store wouldn’t have been as visible, in 2020, people were isolated and looking to find out what was stocked in stores online. He has continued to push his offering online ever since.

“I can put something up, ask my staff to share it and it’s reached 3,000 people free of charge,” he says. “I unashamedly friend request people who come into the store and then I can invite them to like our store page.”

By posting about new products – but not so much that people get fed up – Lewis has increased turnover and footfall in his store.

Special services and products

Dean Holborn in Surrey

As well as stocking quality goods, retailers can also draw customers from afar by offering products that people won’t easily be able to find elsewhere. The biggest thing that draws customers to Dean Holborn’s two stores in Surrey is his parcel drop-off. While it’s labour-intensive and requires more staff members, it gets people visiting and allows him to showcase the rest of his store.

“We get feedback that people didn’t know what a fantastic store we had. And while those people won’t come back on a weekly basis, you’ve now put yourself in their minds and they’ll think about coming back,” he says.

Holborn owns a florist next to one of his stores, which he showcases on social media to draw people in from further afield. By going big on seasonal options such as Christmas trees, Halloween decorations and fireworks, he gets good business.

Let social media do the work

AJ Singh from Premier Morley store in Leeds

AJ Singh’s Premier Morley store in Leeds was already well known for his take-home cocktail counter, but he branched out to launch his own vape brand, Tito Nano.

Singh used his local popularity to drive initial interest, but sales have taken on a new dimension from people coming from out of town to see what the fuss is about. “We’ve had local TikTok influencers come in from Manchester and Birmingham, and had other people ask us to send them vapes via post,” he says.

These influencers’ videos have garnered thousands of likes and have then been reshared by Instagram accounts with big followings, with one video getting more than 45,000 likes. By giving his store a social media-friendly USP, it has been exposed to hundreds of thousands of potential customers without Singh doing any extra work.

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