Wharfedale Premier, Hull

This convenience store in Hull has been family run since 1977. Twenty years ago Sam Coldbeck’s husband, Mark, joined the business and it introduced alcohol around that time. They now run the business together as Sam explains:

What is the store like and how has it evolved over the years?

We have a wide range of grocery items, from confectionery to tobacco, and we are often referred to as “the shop that sells everything”.

Our alcohol sales have grown considerably over the years. We have sold alcohol for the past 18 years and we have seen smaller off-licences go from Hull, so people increasingly depend on us.

We have invested a lot in chilled cabinets for alcohol and that is one advantage we have over the supermarkets.

In 1999 we did a big refit and it was shortly after this that customers started asking where our alcohol was in store. We hadn’t focused on it because there was an off-licence nearby, but when customers kept asking we rejigged things and applied for a licence, which was granted quite quickly.

We changed the licence about nine months ago because we were operating with a very old-fashioned one, which didn’t let us sell alcohol before 10am on Sundays, for example. We had night blinds to cover the alcohol through the hours when we weren’t allowed to sell it, and I think this was confusing for customers.

We can now sell alcohol from 5.30am until 9.30pm when we close, and this has been really good for the nightshift workers, who we see a lot of around here.

What is the local area like?

We are in a residential area and we also have a wind turbine factory and Hull docks nearby, so we have a lot of workers coming in from those businesses and they do a lot of shift work.

The chimney pot count is quite high here and we are on a fairly busy through road. There is a petrol station across the road and a café next door, and I feel that the three of us work really well together and complement each other, so our immediate competition is quite healthy.

There are other convenience stores a bit further away, such as a One Stop and a McColl’s, and there are takeaways nearby. It’s about half a mile to the nearest supermarket.

What current challenges are you facing with your business?

We face challenges such as the rise of the national minimum living wage, which is coming into play in April. While small independent business are relieved that they can offer staff a better wage, it does make it a difficult balancing act for us because we have about 17 members of staff and many are local or family members.

There is someone in the store at 4.30am because we start selling bacon and sausage sarnies from 5.30am. We have a strong food-to-go following so we use all the hours and opportunities we can tap into.

We have to ensure customers are served quickly so we need a certain number of staff on the tills, and we ensure a minimum of two to four people at a time for safety reasons.

We have to balance these issues with the rising cost of wages, so we might have to trim back for the quieter times.

How do you encourage customers to come back?

We do a lot with social media and we advertise all of our new products on there, which works well for alcohol. We now have more than 1,800 Facebook followers.

As an example, our local rugby club created its own lager and it was only available at the rugby ground, but we managed to get hold of some so we promoted it on social media and the response was fantastic.

We promote beers that we get in from local breweries, such as Great Newsome and Atom in Hull, because we like to support local businesses.

Events such as Halloween work well for us, and customers love promotions where they get a free glass with their drink, or merchandise related to rugby, for example.

We really feel that we need to be in at the start with new product launches so we can share them on social media and then they will fly out of the store.

We need to be at the forefront so we work with suppliers on this, to ensure we aren’t just getting new products weeks after they appear in supermarkets. I think suppliers now look at smaller symbol groups as a great launch platform for products because there are a lot of good independent retailers who really know their customers.

What sells well from BWS?

We take about £30,000 a month on alcohol.

We have seen multipacks grow over the years, so 18-packs of Foster’s and Carling sell well, along with 10 and 12-packs. These are often on promotion, such as £12.99 for an 18-pack, but we don’t try to beat the supermarkets on prices for these.

Margins might be reduced but we work hard with Booker to let it know what our customers want. Booker is very responsive and it does have that smaller wholesaler mentality, which is priceless for me.

Spirits are behind the counter and sales have been good.

We are working on an overall gross margin of 18% but this can go up on some lines to 30%, and we are seeing particularly good margins on spirits at the moment of around 25%.

Customers are increasingly asking for gin and rum. Sourcing local spirits has been hard but if one came along we would certainly be interested.

We are seeing growth in wine sales, for brands such as Isla Negra and Secretary Bird. I would say £10 is the limit per bottle of wine.

Do you have any plans for the future to share?

We have a new housing estate opening up with 169 houses being built, so we need to work on capturing those new customers.

We look for new ideas all the time but I think we have nailed it with alcohol, so mostly it’ll be about continuing to do what we do well.

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