Drink Retailing caught up with Mahesh Odedra, who runs the Premier Lake Avenue store in Bury St Edmunds, to find out how the business is navigating through the pandemic:

How did you cope through the initial lockdown weeks?

We had a challenging few months and it was quite gruelling because we had staff off work and we were definitely busier than the same time last year. The main challenge has been keeping stuff on the shelves.

It quietened down a bit once we got into June, when the weather changed, and this gave us some time to get back on top of things.

When it was busy we found some stuff was difficult to source.

But we also have a café and a bakery, so when we closed those parts of the business we were able to transfer staff (and some stock) over to the store.

Did you make any changes to the way your store operated?

We had a lot of new shoppers who came in and these were the people who were stockpiling. When we noticed this was happening and saw that our regulars weren’t able to get what they needed, within 48 hours we put a limit on our core lines to try to share out the stock.

It was busy and the amount of time spent sourcing stock made things difficult.

But we started to pre-empt trends We took some time trying to predict where the gaps were going to appear, so it become more of a case of stockpiling whatever we could get our hands on and from whoever.

We use a lot of local suppliers anyway so that helped. And we work with a lot of bakers, plus we were able to source flour from our bakery.

Our local egg suppliers share stock with us as well as the supermarkets. At one stage we were the only shop in the area that had any eggs.

We found that bigger packs were available in lines such as flour, but the smaller packs were hard to find, so we repacked flour into smaller packs for our customers and managed to stay stocked up for 95% of the time. Our customers were grateful for this and we used social media to let people know, which grew some additional loyalty from people.

How were sales of alcohol over the lockdown weeks?

In May we had strong sales of ice cream when the weather got hot, and other impulse lines. Alcohol sales were also good during this month.

Initially we struggled to keep the chiller stocked up quickly enough but we have deliveries from Booker Premier and Booker Londis, so we get things five times spread across a week, plus I did daily trips at 7am to the cash and carry to top up on these.

We saw the biggest increase in multipacks and I think this is where the supermarkets struggled a bit. Multi-pack ciders and beer sold really well. Many of these are price-marked, so it showed we can do value that’s almost as good as the supermarkets. We have 2 metres of chilled space dedicated to ciders and 1metre of promotional space, which we have been using for cider too.

Guinness sales have been good and this was a surprise, but I discovered it is a lot of our elderly customers asking for it on delivery. Also, I heard the supermarkets around here have struggled with stock levels for Guinness. The new Gordon’s gins (orange and lemon flavours) have gone down really well, and the pink one was already popular. We promote these on social media.

What other measures have you had to put in place?

We had to think about social distancing in store very early on, because our shop was getting busy. We put in screens, we have limited numbers inside, and we have hand sanitiser stations.

We have a lot of elderly customers and we already operated a paper delivery service, so we just expanded this out to offer a delivery service to them, as a same-day service. People are still using it now and we are happy to provide this service.

What are your plans for the BWS space?

Over the past two months we have remerchandised the BWS area three times. It depends on availability so we always look to stock as much as we can and to give people variety so that they don’t need to go to the supermarket, and this means we are constantly re-merchandising to fully achieve this goal.

Wine sales have been good, especially white wine sales, so we might make more of this area.

We recently extended the space for our RTD range by 25%. Sales have been good.