Hoping for an XL-ent Christmas!
Sometimes a small change can have a big impact. Paul Lynch can testify to this after a rebrand at his store has really improved business. He now looks forward to a lucrative Christmas with the help of strong promotional activity from XL. Fionnuala Carolan reports
12 December 2014 | 0
Lynch’s XL, Old Leighlin, Co. Carlow
Manager/Owner: Paul Lynch
Size: 1,700sq ft
Opening hours: Mon-Fri: 7.40 am to 10pm and Sat/Sun: 8.30am – 10pm
The XL store in Old Leighlin, Co. Carlow underwent a rebrand in August of this year. This consisted of replacing the old XL Stop and Shop image to reveal the refreshed XL branding. Much to Lynch’s delight this change has already resulted in increased spend and custom.
This is a family business, owned by Paul’s mother, managed by Paul, with his younger brother also working in the store. “I enjoy retailing. It’s something I grew up with I suppose but I didn’t necessarily think I’d take on the shop,” he explains. “I did accountancy training in DIT Aungier Street. I finished my four years in 2005 and then I started here and I’ve been here since.”
The original family shop was situated next door to this site and was a typical independent country store, half grocery and half hardware. About seven years ago they built the new store and at the same time joined BWG. This meant that the hardware took a backseat and today Lynch says it only accounts for about 10% of the business, although the locals can still be sure to buy their wellies there.
Hard to be independent
The family’s reason for joining a group was simple; it was becoming too difficult to trade as an independent. “It’s become very awkward as an independent now,” Lynch explains. “You can’t get certain stock unless you are part of a group now. It’s literally not possible. Small van sales are completely gone. The support and the pricing you get from a group is very important to your survival.”
Does he believe that the independent grocer is being squeezed out? “I would agree with that,” says Lynch. “It’s making it very awkward. Also I think people are more at home being in stores that are branded in some way.”
He is speaking from experience as he explains the difference that the rebranding has made to the shop. “We have seen a 10/15% increase month-on-month over the previous year already. With the rebrand, we changed the layout of the shop too. We moved the fruit and veg to the front of the store and it has made a significant difference to sales but also I think the shop just looks a lot brighter when you walk in. I felt like the fruit and veg wasn’t selling that well but it has definitely improved since we made the change.”
Improving the deli
Back in 2007, when they moved into the new shop and joined BWG, they introduced a deli in-store for the first time. It always did a good trade but a change of supplier to Complete Cuisine in recent times has taken things up a notch. “We have really good support from Complete Cuisine. They have sent people out to spend a few days in the deli to give tips on how to improve things and how best to merchandise produce.”
In reaction to this they now bake their own muffins, cookies and breads every day. Lynch says that it takes a while to control your waste but they have it under control now. “At first there is a lot of waste because you put on more than you need to gauge the reaction to it but that has cut down now and we know how much we need of each product. We now merchandise it on a nice table. And their [Complete Cuisine’s] guidance has been very helpful.”
The introduction of the Glenmor range of fresh meat in the past year has also been a welcome addition as it saves the locals a trip to a supermarket when they just want to pick up something for dinner. “The fresh meat from Glenmor is great to have. People can shop for their full dinner here now. I think that was lacking in convenience stores for a long time.”
However he does have an issue with it that he hopes will be resolved soon. “The problem I have is with the box sizes. We only have a small space but you have to buy a box of eight products at a time so it makes it very hard to extend the range. If you could buy boxes of four you could stock an extra 4/5 things rather than having to get eight of the one thing. That’s the problem I have. You need to be very big, like a EuroSpar to extend your range to having ten products. At the moment we stock chicken fillets, pork chops, chickens, hams and then it depends on the offers. At the moment there are chicken kebabs available. Chicken fillets are the best-sellers though.”
Addition of an off-licence
The most recent change to the store was the addition of a full off-licence. This was only completed in August but they are already reaping the benefits.
“We opened on the August Bank Holiday weekend. It’s going better than we expected. This will be our first Christmas so we’d be hoping for a boost in sales this year,” Lynch says.
The customers have reacted well to the new changes in the store but the locals are always quick to let Lynch know when they are not happy about something. “They’d be giving out about the fact that you are moving things around so they can’t find things but generally it was a good reception and they like the new look,” he joked.
The fact that there is no other off-licence in the village has been a real advantage to this business. Lynch explains that there is one a few miles away in Leighlinbridge but it is an off-licence within a pub. You have to travel up to 15 kilometres to Bagnelstown or on to Carlow before you hit any real competition in the off-licence or in fact, grocery area.
Keeping up with competition
Lynch says that competition with the supermarkets is tough mainly due to the perception of shoppers as opposed to the difference in prices. He thinks that the public automatically assume they are getting the lowest price in a supermarket even though he might be matching them or even bettering a price in his store due to the strong promotions provided by XL.
“I’ve checked the prices and we have the same offers as SuperValu on tins of biscuits and sweets. People think they are getting value in a supermarket even if we have the same prices. If they see a box of biscuits here for €7.50 they will go away and check prices elsewhere whereas if they see an offer in SuperValu or Tesco they will presume it’s the lowest price and buy it straightaway. In saying that we have some people who just support local all the time which is great but there is not the same level of loyalty there anymore. Lidl and Aldi may have ruined that. If you could convince them [your customers] that you had similar products and prices, they would come to you first. We have the Christmas products in early so they can look elsewhere and maybe come back.
“The Christmas products from XL were well priced which gives us a chance to compete with others. I won’t know until Tesco drops their prices but I think we can compete.”
XL promotional cycle
Lynch explains how XL has recently changed to a three week promotional cycle as opposed to a four week cycle. “I know it’s not a big difference but it keeps things fresher and people are more likely to purchase the new offers. Wine is great on promotion. I think flashed rounded price points work the best. When wine is merchandised at certain price points, it does work better. People don’t want to pick the lowest one but they pick the one that is second lowest.”
Without doubt he says they are up on last year and he is optimistic for the year ahead. “I get the impression that there is a lift. Now maybe that’s just the rebranding but there is not as much complaining around and the spend is up.
“I’m happy with the way the shop looks now. There are one or two things I’d still like to change but I think it’s always like that. It’s good not to be too complacent. Looking back now, we were thinking of putting the rebrand off for another year or so because you’re afraid to spend money but really you have to do it and it has paid off.”