The winning formula

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Neighbourhood Retailer speaks to Gregory Cochrane from the multi award-winning EUROSPAR Knockchree.

Flanked by the Mountains of Mourne, the sleepy fishing village of Kilkeel seems an unlikely location for a major player in the convenience industry. Henderson Retail however, know a good opportunity when they see it, and EUROSPAR Knockchree has been performing at an unprecedented rate since its 2015 rebrand to EUROSPAR.

Under the expert eye of retail veteran Gregory Cochrane, the contemporary store now employs 42 staff from the local area, and celebrated the end of a successful year of trading by winning the Best Customer Service accolade at the annual Neighbourhood Retailer Awards in October 2017.

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Speaking to Neighbourhood Retailer, Gregory said: “The past year has been fantastic for us, it’s a very exciting time for convenience and we are well placed to be ahead of the curve in the months ahead.”

A typical community site, Gregory has watched the store’s customer base evolve from the archetypal last-minute convenience basket spend, to weekly, and even monthly grocery shops.

“In previous years we have all been guilty of pigeon holing the convenience sector,” said Gregory. “It’s very clear that the market is changing and EUROSPAR Knockchree has experienced healthy growth on like-for-like sales and profits in the last year alone.”

Food-to-go is also big business for this EUROSPAR outlet. Customers have a wide range of choice from the dailyDeli, which offers fresh and tasty food for breakfast, lunch and all day, as well as an in-store Subway franchise.

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EUROSPAR Knockchree is one of many stores around the region that are enjoying the new-found confidence customers have in the convenience supermarket model.

Gregory said: “We are experiencing growth across the whole store and grocery sales in particular are flying. Coffee is one of our hero categories – only a few years ago we would have sold in the region of 300 cups a week, now we are pushing 1,000 cups, of course offering Northern Ireland’s number one coffee brand, Barista Bar is such an important part of this.”

The Henderson Retail model is something that Gregory is especially complimentary of, stating that it gives the store a strong support network across all business functions.  Sound local customer knowledge is crucial to convenience retailing success and is something Henderson Group stores are fast becoming renowned for. Gregory said: “75 per cent of our fresh range is sourced locally and the in-store butchery counter is also operated by the award winning Cunningham’s Master Butchers. In a community area like Kilkeel, this gives us a local appeal over nearby multiples.”

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In addition to stocking local suppliers, the environmentally conscious store has recently moved into shelf ready packaging whereby stock is put on the shelf in its presentation box to minimise waste and drive cost savings.

Fresh and deli lines remain top priorities for the modern retailer and when Neighbourhood Retailer spoke to Gregory he was in the middle of launching a new Slimmers Choice range in conjunction Cunningham’s to appeal to increasingly health conscious consumers.

“We are very excited about this new range that will provide consumers with more choice and allows us to develop alongside our core product range.”

For Gregory, convenience retailing is all about the people involved.

“The biggest advantage to the Henderson Retail model is that it allows me to concentrate on areas of the business that I see as most important – people and customer service.”

Like all Henderson Group stores, EUROSPAR Knockchree benefits from the knowledge of the Mallusk based trading team, and the use of computerised ordering system ASR that takes into account buying trends and costs.

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“We also work closely with the Henderson Group space planning teams to ensure adherence to recommended product layouts. This frees up time in-store to focus on providing exemplary customer service.”

Gregory sits down on a weekly basis with the management team to evaluate  store performance KPI’s. Staff development is a consistent area of focus in this County Down store and one of EUROSPAR Knockchree’s key objectives is to recruit, train and employ staff that stay and grow within the company.

“We find that giving our staff ownership, the information they need, and developing the skills required to do the job generates great results for us.

“The store is divided into key areas that members of staff take responsibility for. We have everything from a coffee champion to a community champion and the bottom line is ownership and accountability.

“Each champion has their own team, and in our experience, staff get a lot of satisfaction out of meeting targets and moving the business forward.”

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The store is continually looking for ways they can improve on this model and a new champion has recently been appointed to look after EUROSPAR Knockchree’s social media presence.

“It’s about having brilliant people on board and everyone working together to make a difference. As well as the champion initiative, we have a great rewards system and it’s really encouraging to see our staff meeting targets and achieving bonuses.”

EUROSPAR Knockchree finds that this approach to staff development is essential for retaining staff, as well as recruiting new members of the team.

“We have made a name for ourselves within the community as a good place to work. Staff retention is very high, and we have people approaching us for employment before we advertise,” Gregory said.

With access to the Henderson Group’s People Services department, EUROSPAR Knockchree has all the resources needed to ensure the hiring process is as seamless as possible.  Before beginning work in the store, new employees are required to complete an intense online learning programme, which is complimented by in-store and external training.

“I always employ because of personality,” said Gregory. “We want that person to be with us a good period of time and if they are a right fit for the team, we can always develop the necessary skills through training.”

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Gregory believes his team are the reason behind the many awards bestowed upon the store. (In 2017, EUROSPAR Knockchree won Topaz Customer Store of the Year, Henderson Retail Community Store of the Year, and Best Customer Service at the Neighbourhood Retailer Awards.)

“It’s 100 per cent down to the fantastic team of people we have,” he said.

“In 2017, our community champion motivated the staff to raise just over £12,000 for local charities. We truly are in the heart of the community making a difference.”

For Gregory, community involvement, sourcing fresh food locally, giving staff increased responsibility, and listening to customer feedback are all the elements that come together to create a winning formula.

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The Henderson Group use online customer satisfaction tool ‘Tell Us First’ and mystery shoppers to gain customer feedback, which is then implemented in-store.

Gregory said: “The feedback that we gain from customers is invaluable for improving the customer experience. If a customer requests a certain product, we react to that feedback and do our best to source it.”

In 2018, Gregory is keen to keep building on their strengths as a store.

“We are very focused on costs, and it’s important to constantly be aware of changes to important issues like minimum wage, waste disposal, and staffing., We also want to continually improve on previous performance by acting on customer feedback to enhance their shopping experience. I’m confident in our team’s ability to excel in the year ahead and am looking forward to what’s to come.”



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