Happening at Grampian Health Store

Q&A with Callum Eddie, Aberdeen

Firstly, how has the pandemic affected Grampian Health Store?

No staff were furloughed during lockdowns and contracted hours have been maintained throughout. Everyone continued to attend work and we have experienced nil absence, and in recognition of this commitment staff have been rewarded accordingly. We continue to operate as normal as possible, taking the decision throughout to follow a commonsense approach and resist imposing what we believed to be unnecessary restrictions on the customer, at the same time instilling and maintaining both customer and staff confidence.

Then what?

We anticipated the change that was to follow, experiencing a surge in online sales during March/April 2020 and concluded that online would be critical to maintain sales during the pandemic. We committed further resources to the development of our site and increased our activity on social and digital media. There were concerns in the early days in regard to supply and an increasing number of out-of-stock lines, so to maintain customer satisfaction with our online service we amended our site to ‘live stock’ which on reflection was a positive decision as all orders placed are fulfilled and dispatched same day.

We also decided to make available online our in-store stock inventory offering an online delivery service option to Aberdeen postcodes, complementing our Click & Collect and courier options. This approach has worked well for us to date, and we have received many messages from satisfied customers.

So is online the future for health stores?

Online will play a greater part but there is a word of caution – it is not an overnight success and like a bricks and mortar store requires great deal of time, thought and resources. External advice and support is often required. We were successful with our grant application in January this year, securing funding via the Scottish Government Business Gateway digital development grant scheme. The grant has been invested in a new bespoke website which we aim to have live in August with computer upgrades.

How do online sales compare with in-store?

Presently our online sales account for about 12% of our turnover. It was higher during the height of the pandemic, but the reduction has coincided with increased footfall with customers slowly returning to shop instore. Footfall is lower than pre-covid although an increase in average customer spend is currently compensating for the reduction. Chilled & Frozen category sales has seen a significant decline over the past 12-18 months which may in part be to the wider availability of the products through mainstream channels. It is an area we are reviewing and a decision pending if we continue to stock this category going forward or could it be replaced with a more appealing range.

Are you using any external services?

We have noticed a trend that customers who would previously shop exclusively in-store may visit us less but shop online in between visits. We do see our online presence as being a fundamental part of our future. We have upgraded our Epos System via Emporio to the latest RMH (Retail Management Hero) which we are now all familiar with. I believe that data and its interpretation is a very useful tool in our armoury.

We have implemented a customer benefits card scheme which can be used instore and online. This allows us to stay in contact and track our customers’ visits and spend etc. Also, we are engaging with a digital marketing company for brand strategy, visual identity, data management and marketing strategy.

We recognise that we do need to work with other partners to achieve our goal which is to continue to survive and thrive in this fast-changing market. With the majority of product brands now selling online and engaging directly with the consumer we need to adapt accordingly. The consumer has become ever more informed and in many cases more demanding. With the growth of zero waste, lifestyle and refill stores in our area we are all fishing in the same pond for the same consumer.

Where next?

The city centre of Aberdeen is presently in transition. Several high street names have disappeared, John Lewis included. The city has taken a big hit with many closures. The City Council has approved new construction projects and a number of buildings that were previously offices above retail units are being converted into flats to encourage city centre dwelling once again. Aberdeen Inspired (the city’s BID) is working tirelessly on several initiatives to encourage footfall back into the city centre but an overzealous council’s measures appear to have had the exact opposite effect. However, we are confident that if trade continues as it has we are in a relatively good position to come through this period.

Any advice?

As independent retailers, we can adapt very quickly to the challenges presented to us, I believe that all stores no matter what size need to grasp, understand and implement new technologies, maintain and develop subject knowledge, nurture talent and apply good business acumen. None of us has a right to survive but I do truly believe that we can all still thrive and look forward to the future, whatever it brings.

Read more articles from our latest issue...