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Transforming the store for the peak season

Published: 14. February 2016

Being prepared for the summer peak is everything when running a store in a resort. In a few critical weeks when sales rise significantly, all in-store operations must be first-class. Meet retailer Thomas Walfridsson who operates his store on a holiday island. Below, he shares tips how to run a store successfully in peak-season. In addition, he shares his tips for how to retain key personnel in a country location.

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In the small village Roma in the middle of the Swedish island Gotland, Tomas Walfridsson runs a medium-sized ICA grocery store. His store serves about 1 200 resident households but during the summer months, about 7 000 tourists also visit the area. During eight weeks of the holiday season, his turnover doubles compared to the rest of the year. To meet the peak,Tomas transforms both store operations and the merchandise mix.

Estimate quantities and order it all in time

The most important thing to meet the summer peak is to order everything in advance from the suppliers.

“As we are situated on an island, it becomes problematic if we run out of merchandise as it takes an extra day with the ferry to get the products here,” Tomas says. “Therefore, I send all my orders for the whole season to my suppliers early in June. Thus I can be sure that I never will be out of goods when I need them.”

When he took over the store a couple of years ago, it was a bit tricky to estimate the quantities of merchandise that was required for the summer. He remembers that the first summer the store increased sales of bake-off bread with 500 per cent! Nowadays, his wife, who is responsible for the bread department, knows exactly how much bread that is needed to meet up to the fourfold summer sales. She packs weekly rations of bread on plates in advance, so the staff just have to move the plates into the oven during the days.

“In this way, the whole process goes smoothly, the staff do not have to rummage in the freezer and due to the correct amount of bread, there will not be any unnecessary waste of bread,” says Tomas.

The range of merchandises in the summer is also a bit different from the usual assortment. Therefore, Tomas and his staff redesign the sales floor before the holidays:

“As Swedes are crazy about barbeques during the summer, we have a large barbeque area with a lot of fresh meat, sauces, and barbeque accessories. We also stock pallets of water, soft drinks, and beer. During the summer days, we continuously replenish the shelves, so that our store always will be well stocked and appealing.”

Eextended opening hours and holiday rules

In the store there are 13 regular employees and four extra workers. In the summer there are eight extra seasonal workers due to extended opening hours, more customers in the store and the regular staff’s vacations. No one is allowed to take more than three three weeks of vacation in a row in the summer. However, in the rest of the year, the staff can take vacation whenever they want.

“We have two 3-week vacation periods during the summer peak.” Tomas says. “Every two years one gets an early vacation and every two years one gets a late holiday. In a store with a summer peak, there is no possibility to let the staff have a long vacation. Those are our most critical weeks.”

Employee education for better service

To provide excellent service during the peak period, it is of great importance that all new hires get an adequate education. Everyone has to learn the rules and laws about selling tobacco and beer, non-prescription drugs, gambling, and lotto. There are fines if an employee, for instance, sells tobacco to an underage person. The ICA retailers sometimes make anonymous tests in the store, which Tomas considers a good practice for the staff.

In addition, everyone has to get educated in in-store logistics and routine analysis. The ICA retailers have one training programme that every new employee must attend, but Tomas has his own education programme as well.

“We have a policy that each product should only be touched once,” Tomas says. “It is important that every process in the store is beeing effective during the peak season.”

Tomas, who has a long career within retailing, says that he sees a value in sharing his competence with his staff.

“If an employee asks me how he or she should solve a certain task, I often answer ‘How would you have done if I was not in the store?” Thus they learn creative and independent thinking. Afterwards, I ask if he or she thinks that the task was solved in the smartest way or if it could have been done differently. I want to support them without holding too tightly on the reins.”

Training and encouragement retains employees

Since there is a constant move of the younger population from Gotland to the cities on the mainland, there is a risk of brain drain. Tomas’ solution to this problem is to develop his staff’s skill sets continuously –  for their empowerment and satisfaction.

“For instance, I have now lent one of my employees to an ICA-store in Stockholm. Hopefully, she will return with new experiences. I began my career that way, and I think it was both invaluable and stimulating.”

Cash management makes it easier

Tomas tells that one thing that made it simpler to cope with the summer peak is the cash management system that he got installed a few years ago. It gives him accurate reports and no miscalculations. One of the biggest advantages of the system is that there is always enough float due to the reusing of coins and bills. Another great thing is that the cashiers do not have to count the tills before opening a new checkout, which means that it always is easy to open a new checkout if there are queues.

Finding the competitive edge

Nearby in the central town Visby, there are now three large supermarkets. At first, Tomas was afraid of the competition, and for a while, the store lost sales due to them.

“But then we realised that we should ignore them and do our thing which basically means a well-stocked store, a personal approach and above all: no queues at checkouts.”

In order to minimise queues, Tomas has made a cashier schedule which enables flexibility in how many checkouts that are open. The cash management system makes it possible to quickly open a new checkout when necessary.

“Practically anyone can manage a checkout now when the cashier does not need to have responsibility for money,” says Tomas and ads that fast checkouts are one of their strongest competitive advantages he has.

Another competitive edge is that Tomas´ store offers a lot of locally grown vegetables and local meat. Also, things that draw people to his store is extra services, such as postal service and a vending machine for empty bottles.

Soon this summer’s peak is over and a calmer period in the store will come. Nevertheless, when there are major holidays, it immediately becomes more hectic again.

“We are happy with a new ferry line that makes the the island more accessible and cheaper to travel to. Moreover, I hope that the public transports and the accommodations will increase so that Gotland could have a vibrant countryside all year long.”