When extreme weather hits, local stores become a lifeline for stranded customers. Retail Newsagent’s Tom Gockelen-Kozlowski spoke to four experts to find out how you can get your store ready for this unpredictable sales and service opportunity

Extreme weather can be a headache for communities, especially in rural areas, but as winter approaches, retailers should remember that heavy snowfall can also be an opportunity. Existing customers will see clear evidence of how important you are as they are cut off from supermarkets and town centres. And some local residents who’ve never used your shop will be compelled to come in for their milk and bread – and may leave as newly loyal customers.

Retailer view

paul-moscardiniPaul Moscardini. Hallfield Lane Stores, Wetherby, Leeds

People tend to stockpile when bad weather is on its way. They go for the basics – bread, milk and ready meals that they can put in the freezer. I also sell a lot of batteries, salt – to put down on paths – and the usual de-icer and windscreen wash. The kids go barmy if we get a lot of snow and they will want gloves, so I do well on those. I source them from a supplier in Leeds.

Successful sales when the weather is bad are all about gaining customers’ confidence. I’ll tell regulars that I know the weather is going to get worse but then say, “Don’t worry, I’ve increased my orders and I’ve got milk, bread and everything else you will need coming in.” I also tell customers to ring me first before trudging to the store, because I would hate for them to make that effort when we might have had to close early to get staff home. It happened once last year, when we shut at 6pm instead of the usual 8pm.

If you know your customers and communicate well it makes it a lot easier, and they appreciate it too. They realise that the whole business is there for them. Make sure that your doorway is gritted and salted and that your car park is accessible – it sends out a loud message that you are going out of your way to cater for your customers.

I have a large number of elderly customers and if I’m told that certain people are struggling to get out I will find out what they need and get it to them some time that day. We also ring them before we leave so that when they get a knock at the door, they know it is us. Then, when the weather improves, they come into the store and pay.

Retailer view

terryTerry Philpott. Martin’s of Castle Cary, Somerset

When there is a general forecast of bad weather we deal with it in the same way that we deal with hot weather and adjust our orders accordingly – we take a bit of a risk in terms of getting in additional milk and bread, but if we have leftover stock, we tend to sell it anyway because these are essential products.

Some people pop in when it’s snowing and you think, “You come in now but why haven’t you been in more often?” We try to present ourselves in the best way so that they will come back again.

We’re lucky because the majority of our staff can walk to work and I live next door to the business, so we can always open.

In terms of our essential supplies, the majority of our order goes through Londis and they’re very good at delivering from their lorries, even when the weather’s bad.

The elderly are reluctant to come out when it’s slippery, so we make sure that we clear the pavements outside the business. I’m chairman of the town council and we have invested in shovels for retailers.

We had some bad snow in the couple of weeks before Christmas a number of years ago and whereas it would have typically been a good time for selling Christmas goodies, people were switched on to stocking up on essentials instead.

The most effective way to cater for customers is by having good availability. That way, customers know that when they are in crisis, they can come to the shop and get their bread, milk and soup. I’d advise retailers to look at the forecast, take a risk with it and order the best lines. Then give the best service you can.

The supplier view

nick-beresfordNick Beresford – Procter & Gamble sales director, convenience

Local convenience stores can become a lifeline for people who can’t get further afield when the winter weather gets worse, with top-up shops for basic food and household items vital to get them through the cold snap.

Along with food staples such as bread and milk, items such as nappies, batteries, shampoo, conditioner and even household goods can all become highly sought after as stocks run low at home. Once customers know they can get your products without “hassle” it won’t take extreme weather to drive future purchases.

When shoppers are in your store purchasing essential items to get them through the bad weather, it’s a perfect time to ensure they become regular customers afterwards. Find out what they look for from a local store to inform what you do next with ranging and merchandising, and build up a rapport so that they will pop in for supplies in all weathers.

Highlight any added-value services that you can offer, as customers may not be aware of everything you have in place. If you offer a delivery service, cash machines, special seasonal events and so on, be sure to let them know about it. This is a great opportunity for some word-of-mouth advertising to new customers.

Why not think about a ‘winter weather essentials’ display at the front of your store, including products from a number of categories? This could act as a good visual reminder to demonstrate what other supplies they may need to stock up on, and thus help boost incremental sales.

The wholesaler view

john-farrellJohn Farrell – Retail operations manager, Landmark Wholesale

Forward planning is essential and we recommend that a weather watch becomes part of retailers’ daily routines during the winter months.

Like P&G, we also recommend that our retailers have a dedicated area for winter essentials such as de-icer, screen wash, bulk packs of salt, magic gloves and snow shovels. This clearly identifies that you are stocking winter essentials, so, when the bad weather hits, shoppers remember seeing this in their local store rather than risking driving to the local multiple or B&Q depot. Bottled water is also a must as the possibility of burst pipes during a thaw is always a threat. Retailers should check their full range of medicines such as paracetamol and flu remedies.

This is a great opportunity to “upsell” without being forceful.

One of our retailers operates a very good food to go section, offering tea, coffee and hot drinks. In more severe conditions they handed out hot drinks to people who had made their way on foot to keep them warmed up for the trip home.

Re-scheduling of deliveries may be a requirement as it makes commercial sense to hit outlying stores first before the weather hits.