Mark Johnson opened his Celebrations off-licence in Offerton, Stockport, just over nine months ago. Despite this being his first shop, business is booming with plans for expansion already in place.
This may seem remarkable for a new venture, but Mark has the benefit of having worked for Scottish Courage Brands for more than 10 years and has the knowledge of the industry to back up his new business.
Since opening his off-licence, Mark has used his experience in the drinks industry to help maximise sales and boost trade, and one of his first ports of call was the FWD Take Home Blueprint scheme.
“Working for Scottish Courage I have great understanding of beer and know the market well, but when it came to the rest of the alcohol categories I didn’t have a clue where to start.
“As a supplier I’ve worked with the independent sector recommending the Blueprint and I know it’s a tried and tested scheme that works for all parties, so I also knew that this was what I needed to help get the ball rolling when I moved into retailing myself,” Mark explains.
“With the free industry best practice advice that is available for independent retailers through the Take Home Blueprint, and initiatives such as My Shop Is Your Shop, it made me realise that this is an area that I wanted to move into and that I could get the support if I needed it.”
Mark has followed the Blueprint guidelines to merchandise all categories and is constantly looking for ways to improve his store and boost trade. He has introduced the Blueprint Wine Wheels, the educational guide on matching food types to different wine variants, which he admits have been a useful tool not just for his customers but also for him and his staff.
He realises the importance of offering chilled alcohol and all his beer is stocked in double door chillers, with core brands of wine and ARTDs also chilled. He has plans to invest in dairy decks and also has a mass chiller in the back to keep cases cool for bulk purchases as well.
“Within a couple of hundred yards there is a Co-op and a Your Local Off Licence, and I know that I also have to compete with the multiples. I realised early on that it’s not all about price, it’s about point of difference that makes people come to your shop over the others.
“We do offer good deals, multi buys and promotions, but we also have that point of difference in that you can get chilled alcohol here. This has been a real success during the recent hot spell and to me that is what the convenience market is all about – serving what your customers want at any given moment.”
Looking to the future, under advice from Take Home Blueprint scheme director Ross Shelley, Mark is planning to move his spirits from behind the counter and test how sales react if they are self-select. He has an area in mind that will allow people to browse the range without feeling under pressure but also within sight of the counter to keep an eye on shrinkage.
In addition to the usual core ranges of beers, wines, spirits and ARTDs, Mark stocks a range of premium bottled ales and is keen to expand this market and is looking for guidance.
“I’m always looking for new areas that will help business and give me that extra point of difference and premium bottled ales are just that. It’s becoming a real growth area and can add theatre to the store.
“The objective of setting up my own store was to offer my customers great convenient service with a bit of character and I feel with the Blueprint schemes I’m definitely on the right track.”
Contact the Take Home Blueprint on 0161 440 2770 or www.takehomeblueprint co.uk