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KeyStore retailers on the frontline share their Covid-19 trading experiences

KeyStore retailers have been working hard to provide a safe, reliable and friendly service to customers – with many reporting a sharp uplift in sales.

Working in close partnership with their wholesaler, Glasgow-based JW Filshill, retailers and their staff are welcoming customers old and new to their stores as people change their shopping habits, shun the queues at the supermarkets and head for their local convenience store.

Denny Post Office, KeyStore Express

In Denny Post Office, a KeyStore Express outlet near Falkirk, Mark Love has experienced “quite a few changes”. “For starters, the way people are using the Post Office has changed – there’s no business banking at the moment with so many companies being closed,” he said. “However, a lot of people are buying and selling on eBay so that’s bringing them into the Post Office.”

Shop sales are up for the time of year. “People are being very supportive of their local shop and many customers tell us they don’t like queuing to get into the supermarkets and would rather shop locally,” Mark continued. “Generally, stock is good and Filshill have been brilliant – the way they ensure that certain products are shared equally among the retailers is much appreciated and means we all get something.

“I’m a big fan of their Click & Collect service and with the quieter roads at the moment it only takes an hour’s round trip.”

Filshill has also provided floor vinyls and social distancing posters with “the vast majority” of customers adhering to the rules. “Unfortunately, there is that small minority who don’t adhere to the rules for anything in life so that’s been challenging for the staff but on the whole everyone’s been great,” said Mark.

“We are noticing more people out and about now in this second phase of lockdown with couples and even families coming in which isn’t ideal. If the lockdown continues this could become a major problem for us and many other retailers as the public’s mentality changes and people become a bit more laid back about it.”

“We’ve learned as we go along,” he explained. “To start with, we were closing between 1pm and 2pm to restock and clean the shop – sterilising door handles, pin pads and so on but that backfired because come 2pm there was a queue and it became hard to manage.

“I’m in early so I try to keep on top of things then and we restock and clean during quieter times – I really do take my hat off to my staff for their hard work and commitment during what is a difficult time for everyone. The hygiene guidance and support that we have received from Filshill has given them all confidence in coming into work and supporting our local community.”

Pete Singh and Pam Kaur, KeyStore Dreghorn

Known locally as Pete’s KeyStore, this convenience store and Post Office in Ayrshire has seen sales increase by between 40% and 50% during lockdown. Says Pete: “People are coming and telling us they can get certain products from us that they can’t in the supermarkets and that’s good to hear.

“It’s great that they’re coming to us although we’ve sometimes had to limit products like flour and handwash – in fact, we’ve had people coming from miles away because they heard we have flour.”

Pete, who will have been in the same shop for 36 years come August, has cut back its opening hours to 7.30am-8pm in order to provide free home deliveries for older and vulnerable customers.

AJ Benning, KeyStore More, Gourock

“Business is the busiest it’s ever been,” says AJ Benning, owner of KeyStore More in Gourock, Inverclyde. “It’s been a lot of hard work but everyone’s in the same boat – you just have to get on with it.

“We’re seeing a lot of customers we haven’t seen in the shop before and they all say the same thing – ‘we didn’t know you had so much here’. The challenge, of course, is to do everything we can to keep them coming back when this is all over.”

Social distancing, he points out, is going well and the team has developed a good cleaning routine. “Filshill gave us floor vinyls, posters and sneeze screens – the safety of my staff and customers is my absolute priority,” says AJ. “The staff have been fantastic.”

Filshill’s Click & Collect service has been “brilliant”, he adds. “The guys are really going above and beyond to support retailers and they make sure everyone gets their fair share of what’s available rather than allow just a few to buy everything.

“As a wholesaler they’re really on the ball and keep you updated when there are delays or stock issues – I really couldn’t ask for more.”

Chris Watson, KeyStore Express, Corseford

Very much a neighbourhood retailer, Chris Watson, owner of KeyStore Express in Corseford, Renfrewshire admits that there were “a few manic days” at the start of lockdown. “We knew things would find their flow but we’ve had to make quite a few changes,” he says.

“As a retailer in a community like mine you have to be able to think on your feet and act quickly,” Chris points out. “With the bad weather and snow during the ‘Beast from the East’ in 2018, stores like mine really stepped up and were able to provide local people with everything they needed.

“Coronavirus, of course, is a beast of a very different nature but it’s been great to see our sector step up again and, in our case, get such fantastic help and support from our wholesaler, Filshill.”

Like many other convenience stores, KeyStore Corseford has reduced its hours, from 7am-10pm to 8am-8pm. Just three customers are permitted inside at any one time. “Filshill has provided KeyStore-branded posters on social distancing which get the message across in an easy, friendly way.

“There are also posters for us to put in our own opening hours and ones that thank customers for shopping local as well as videos that we’ve posted on our Facebook page – it’s really good stuff and customers have latched on pretty quickly to the way things have to be at the moment. I have even been doing my own video posts to give customers updates on changes and stock availability.”

Staff, Chris explains, are working longer hours but have days off to compensate plus wages have been increased. “The staff are on the frontline so their safety is paramount,” he points out. “We shut for an hour between 2pm and 3pm when we restock clean everything – sneeze guards, counter, door handles and so on – although we’re constantly cleaning throughout the day anyway.

“We’ve definitely picked up a lot of new trade and when people see what we do here they’re often quite surprised, in terms of what we sell and also how professional we are. It’s also a new habit for them so we hope they don’t break it!”

Wilson Rea, KeyStore More, Lanark

In Lanark, long-time retailer Wilson Rea is working round the clock to keep his busy store well stocked – with the support of his wholesaler, Filshill.

“They’ve been brilliant,” he says. “I can’t praise them enough. I send in an order before 2pm for 100 cases and it’s ready for me to collect at 4.30pm – that’s a fantastic service through Click & Collect.

“Thankfully the panic buying situation is over and now we’re seeing some new shopping patterns emerge, for example home baking as parents are at home teaching the kids how to bake and cook. In fact, we’ve never sold so many home-baking products.

“We’ve also taken the decision to stop selling scratchcards during Covid-19 – products like that are hardly a necessity at this time.”

Food to go at lunchtime has fallen away and overall FTG business is down by about 25% although there continues to be a demand for pies and sausage rolls.

Snappy Shopper, the mobile app and web-based convenience store home delivery platform, is performing well as more people opt for home delivery. “Some customers are doing their weekly shop through Snappy Shopper and the average basket spend is £42 although our biggest to date was £230,” says Wilson.

On a less positive note there has been spate of shoplifting in Lanark, not just at Wilson’s store but other outlets too. “It’s difficult because the police just don’t have the resources at the moment,” he says. “Hopefully it will stop but it’s another problem that my hardworking staff have to deal with they are already coping with difficult trading circumstances.

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