Mumtaz Ali took on his Edinburgh city centre store nearly 20 years ago and one of the first things he did was to introduce a BWS section. He tells DRN that the sales uplift from introducing alcohol was immediate.
What sort of alcohol range did you start off with?
I started with quite a small range but I could see it was selling well so I quickly increased it and sales picked up even more. Now about half of the shop is alcohol, if you look at the floor space it takes up.
There were a lot of magazines, greetings cards and other slower- selling lines when I took it on, so it was fairly easy to create more space by taking those things out.
I could see I was getting a quicker return in off-sales, so it was a no- brainer really.
We had to change our opening hours. When I took on the store it closed at 6pm so I extended it to 8pm from the start, but when alcohol sales really started taking off I had to extend to 10pm.
What is your local competition like?
The competition around here is massive. We have a Sainsbury’s Local across the road, a Tesco Express in the next block along, and another Sainsbury’s a walk away from that. There is a Lidl and a Tesco Metro fairly near as well, and within a quarter of a mile there are 20-30 convenience stores dotted around. So there is heavy competition but we see a lot of footfall in the area.
We have a very diverse customer base. We get tourists, locals and students coming in here – you name it we get them all.
How do you keep customers coming back?
We don’t use social media. I have been here for 20 years so if I want to tell my local customers anything I can do it by word of mouth.
Minimum unit pricing has put an end to any promotional activity anyway. In fact, it has helped trade for me as sales have definitely been up over the past year. I would say the off-trade sales for me are 20% up since MUP was introduced in Scotland.
With MUP I am now seeing good sales of multipacks of beer and cider, so eight, 10 and 12-packs and some bigger ones. We can now sell these at the same price as a supermarket can and we get a good margin on them too. I will definitely add more of those in the near future.
Before MUP I was a bit too frightened to stock those, when I had them at £11 a pack and supermarkets had them at £8.
I am sure the independent sector for alcohol is up in general since MUP. It’s very encouraging.
Even in spirits I can now sell the cheapest vodka in my store at the same price as you would find in a supermarket.
It doesn’t seem to have put people off buying alcohol but I don’t think there has been a negative effect either. It gives us a better margin.
I would say shoppers were quick to realise the prices would be the same everywhere and that has driven them into the convenience sector. They don’t want to queue for ages in a supermarket, they just want to buy something quickly, which they can do here.
What sells well in your BWS section?
I have a range of local craft beers. We have Dragon’s Soup, which is popular with students.
We have 20 different bottles of craft beer. Some are real ales and we have brands as well from brewers such as Fuller’s and Theakstons.
Malt whiskies in different sizes sell well here. It’s often tourists looking for smaller bottles for gifting or samples. It’s a good lucrative market for me as I get good margins on these of maybe 30% to 35% .
The miniatures are cheap enough for people to buy two or three at once as gifts as they are maybe £5 or £6 each, and they can go in hand luggage.
So I have increased my range of miniatures and now I have a whole dedicated section for these. I would stock more but I think some producers are reluctant to go down the miniature route in case it steals sales from their bigger products.
Gin hasn’t taken off in this store and it doesn’t seem to be such a big market here. We used to sell a lot more wine before the supermarkets took over that sector but I think
in convenience consumers are looking for brands they know and recognise in wine, so these are the ones I stick to.
Do you have any space to add any more BWS products?
You would be surprised by how much I can fit in my store.
I have new shelving in the middle and I have confectionary and crisps to the side.
If people request things and they seem like they might buy that brand again and again if I stock it, then of course I would try to seek it out for them.
I use three or four wholesalers as sources for my off-trade sales. But it’s unlikely I will dedicate more of the store to alcohol because I would have to apply for a new licence and the councils here are reluctant to allow more space for alcohol.