Nisa Local Thomas Foodmarket, Stockton on Tees

This Nisa Local was founded in 1950 by Arthur Thomas, grandfather of current owner David Thomas. Off-trade sales went up by 20% when Covid hit, driven by a combination of bigger basket spends and new customers. DR spoke to David Thomas to find out more:

What big changes have you seen over the years?

When it was first opened by my grandfather, Arthur Thomas, it was a third of the current size, but over the years the two neighbouring terraced properties were acquired by the family and developed as part of the store.

I have always worked at the store, as a child helping out and then when I left school. I took over the business in 1997 when my father, Keith, retired. The store has been refurbished a number of times over the years and regularly updated with the addition of new equipment and a Post Office counter. It operated as an independent fascia for many years and was also a Spar. It became a Nisa store in 1980.

At its height the store employed 43 staff whose various roles included slicing meat and cheese for packaging and selling, operating in the warehouse and carrying out deliveries. The store used to do regular home delivery services in the 1970s and 1980s.

The latest store development has been in licensed, with a new spirits counter fitted behind the checkout. It has backlighting and attracts a lot of attention. Sales from that area have tripled since the installation and we added popular brands as well as bespoke SKUs that are requested by individual shoppers. The store has a good reputation as a grocer but is especially well-known for the licensed offer.

How were sales through the first lockdown and summer of 2020 and what challenges did your team face with Covid-19?

Sales during lockdown were phenomenal, up by between 12% and 15% and that figure was mostly maintained throughout the year. There were some supply issues with the high-demand categories that all retailers were affected by, but I worked with local suppliers to plug the gaps and worked incredibly long hours, during which time I hunted high and low for supplies, making use of all options available to ensure the store shelves remained full.

The store saw a lot of new customers during lockdown as well as increased visits from regulars and basket spend was up, with many doing full shops as opposed to just topping up. The team started delivering shopping to regular customers – particularly the elderly and vulnerable – taking basic supplies on a daily basis.

We also took phone requests from shoppers for products that staff picked and either put to one side for collection or delivered. Licensed sales have always been strong but during lockdown were more so, some weeks doubling from average pre-Covid sales.

How would you describe your alcohol section?

The general licensed section is not a separate part of the store but the number of bays dedicated to alcohol has grown over the years and also been developed in terms of chillers added for licensed products.

The store is especially well-known for the licensed offer and we try to price match or beat the big supermarkets on alcohol.

We recently installed a new spirits section, as mentioned earlier.

What sells well in alcohol?

Beers and ales sell well but spirits do especially well, the new spirit fixture with backlighting being a key driver and resulting in a large growth in sales. I pride myself on being able to get my hands on anything a customer asks for when it comes to alcohol so I regularly get individual bottles of specialist spirits at the request of a regular customer.

Customers come in specifically to place an order and now expect me to be able to locate the goods – and I haven’t let anyone down yet – regardless of how obscure the product might be.

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