Since Christmas I’ve been trying out a few small ideas to drum up some extra sales. Firstly, I’ve got into printer cartridges. It’s not a market I know much about so we decided to find out which brands our customers use by offering them a cartridge recycling service in the shop. We advertised the service in the local paper, customers brought them in by the bucket load, and by looking at what they brought in we now have around 20 different cartridges in stock.
The response has been good so far and you can make up to 45% margins on them. We check our prices against PC World and Staples to make sure we’re competitive, and I’m hoping that it will help us attract more students.
I’d like to do even more to tap into the student market. We have a university just a mile away which has two shops that are open pretty much 24 hours a day. We’re missing out on that trade because we’re that bit further away.
These shops do a fixed range of sandwiches and drinks and charge a bomb because they’ve got a captive audience. One idea we’re considering is introducing a loyalty card. We’ve had them with our curries and food to go, so maybe we can tailor this to students.
We have also been de-cluttering our range and adding some new products. We’ve been comparing current sales with last year’s. It has shown that we underestimate how well some food lines sell – such as tinned and fresh veg – and that we haven’t given them enough space.
Then there are lines that we thought were selling well but aren’t actually a good return on investment. We noticed that some Embassy and Marlboro lines are taking four to six weeks to sell, for example, where others take less than a week. It’s especially important to assess our tobacco range at the moment because the tobacco manufacturers have stepped up their games with all their recent launches.
It’s trial and error with new tobacco brands, but you can always find space to try them out and EPoS helps us see what’s selling. Silk Cut Choice is one new line that seems to work. I think that’s because it’s an innovation that looks like the original brand, and our customers have favourite brands which they don’t want to switch from.
We’ve tried out new products in other categories too. One that is working at the moment is the new range of Kit Kat Chunky bars. We like to stock new products that are on TV and I know from seeing the current advertising that customers will see these new lines and want to buy them. Sometimes it’s hard to decide what will work, so we look at packaging and pricing, but Kit Kat is a brand that people already like and it would be silly not to try it.
This theory doesn’t always work though. We saw ads for Guzzle Puzzle, tried it, and it didn’t take off. And there are products where we’ve seen the ads, decided not to stock them, even though customers have asked for them, then regretted not getting involved sooner – like some of the new canned alcohol brands.
One other thing that is going well for us is regionally-produced products. We sell lots of local brands such as juices and crisps made in Kent, and fresh fruit sold in season from farms, such as strawberries and cherries.
It helps that we are building a reputation for selling these lines. We’re doing a roaring trade in local sausages, for example, because people know we sell them and pre-order them. If I had more space I’d stock even more local products.