Barry Hanif has been a full-time retailer for three years and is the owner of three stores: an independent in Falkirk; a Day-Today in Paisley; and a Nisa in Coatbridge – the first Nisa Store of the Future 2 format store in Scotland.
Which areas of retailing do you think currently present the best opportunities?
I think services are really important for convenience retailers, but also simple fresh food. A lot of good retailers don’t appreciate how important it is to be able to offer things like fresh bread, fresh fruit, fresh meat. To be able to offer really fresh produce to customers, getting deliveries two or three times day, makes a big difference.
We’ve really grown our chilled ranges in Coatbridge and Paisley with great success. I’m also looking into opportunities in hot food and food to go, but that’s something that’s still in development.
What do you think are the biggest difficulties facing convenience retailers in general at present?
I think staffing is one of the biggest challenges and at the moment it’s definitely ours. We’re just getting to the point where the business is too big for me to keep an eye on everything. I don’t have the time to be able to spend as much time in each of the shops as I’d like. If we added just one more shop we wouldn’t be able to cope. We struggle to cope as it is with the kind of sales we’re doing, so we’re already looking to take on another manager. It is a challenge to find the right people and hold onto them. It’s difficult to get them to see the business they way I do, because that’s what I want. I still spend as much time on the shop floor as I can and I think that makes a difference to them. I really want them to view it as more than a job, which it is to me, but it’s hard. It’s taken us a while to find our dream team at Coatbridge, but I do worry about how that’ll be affected by changes to the minimum wage and tax credits.
What technological tools do you find particularly useful for growing your business?
The EPoS system we use is really helpful and has made a huge difference. I still don’t think we’re using it to its full potential, but we use it to see our sales data and help with merchandising. Typically I’ll focus one or two days a week on pure merchandising, so the EPoS data is important. Facebook has also proved very useful for advertising our shops. We’ve generally had a very good response through social media. In the future, in terms of technology, I’d really like to introduce some kind of click and collect service. I think that’s the way forward for the business, but it’s still a few years off for us.
How do you try to differentiate your business from the competition?
We’re really working hard to make our stores a part of the community. I think we really listen to our customers and we try to provide them with that extra level of service. Everyone knows the store in Fakirk as ‘Barry’s shop’ because I spend as much time there as I can, on the shop floor, talking to customers. And if one of them comes into one of my shops with a bag from Tesco or Co-op I’ll actually ask them why they shopped there and listen to what they tell me. Usually it’ll be something really simple, like something they didn’t know we sold. Likewise, if someone takes an item to the counter and they’ve missed a deal – buy two for £3 or something – my staff will tell them. Effectively it’s upselling, but customers really appreciate staff trying to save them money. It builds loyalty because you don’t get that in a supermarket.
Has the introduction of the new lower drink driving blood alcohol limits had any effect on your business?
It seems to have helped us, because what I’ve noticed is people are walking to our shop to buy alcohol instead of driving to the supermarket. These are customers who will probably have had a few drinks the night before and they’d rather not run the risk of driving so they come to us. At least that’s what I’ve seen. We have a couple of no-alcohol lines, but we can’t shift them. Maybe eventually that’ll be a good business, but right now they don’t sell.
Has the introduction of the tobacco display ban had any effect on your business?
It’s not made a huge difference. Tobacco sales overall are still quite strong, but buying patterns have changed. People are sticking to the brands they know, while sales of the lesser-known brands have dropped off. We keep up to date with what’s selling through our EPoS data, but we haven’t experimented with it. What I’m really interested in is swapping out the gantry for a vending system under the counter. That would make transactions a lot faster and it would mean staff could maintain eye contact with the customer instead of having to turn their back on them. I definitely want to do it, but it’s new technology and I’m just worried what would happen if it broke down. So I’m still just thinking about it for the time being.