Looking good

The sky is the limit when it comes to building a new shop or fitting out an existing one, but you do not have to spend a fortune to make noticeable improvements. There are currently some new shop builds under way that are costing more than £1m, but other butchers have transformed their existing shops for just a few thousand pounds by changing just one or two things.

There is no set formula for success, because every shop and its location are different. However, lowered ceilings with down-lighters and spotlights fitted, new outside fascias, and the creation of more space inside by getting rid of items like old cashier desks or the rearrangement of cabinets, are areas that most butchers who have refitted or redesigned their shops focus on first, especially when undertaking a partial rather than a full refit.

Colours and materials go in and out of fashion. Currently, light rather than dark colours, and clean, bright, hard materials, such as metal and stone, are in vogue.

Mary Irving, a director of Bournemouth-based Creative Retail Solutions, says stainless steel finishes in shops are becoming increasingly popular. “Butchers have a keen eye on their customers and are aware that a clean, fresh shop gives customers added confidence to buy meat at premium prices” she says. “Perhaps it is just the twinkle in their eye, but one of the clearest trends is to have a stainless steel finish. Stainless steel has a light, hygienic look and doesn’t scratch, so it gives a longer life to the counters. It has become very popular for new multi-decks, or for use on the base of counters.”

Sixth-generation Surrey butcher Chris Chapman went for the stainless steel look when he had his Tadworth shop refitted. The shop had its biggest refit since his great grandfather moved into it in 1908, with new fittings and a remodelling of the entrance and interior to create more space. A new S-shaped counter replaced one that went through a right angle, the entrance was moved from a 45-degree angle to be flush with the shop walls, and an old cashier’s kiosk was removed – all of which opened up the sales area. “Customers can see right along the counter now and the stainless steel bed and backing mean the meat is reflected off the surfaces,” says Chapman. “Mirrors at either end of the counter increase the perception of more space. And narrower vents and fittings at the rear of the counter mean I can fit an extra row of trays in.”

Furthermore, customers have a clearer view of the display because the new counter has fewer struts holding up the canopy. To complete the refit, Chapman had the ceiling lowered, with down-lighters replacing strip lighting, as well as new cream tiles and blue-and-white blinds put in to complement the overall colour scheme. “The new look is attracting younger customers and my turnover has increased a bit,” he says.

With access to finance increasingly difficult to obtain from banks, and with the recent recession and current uncertain economic outlook adding to the risk of a costly full refit, some butchers are prepared to do some of the work themselves or at least project-manage a redevelopment themselves. One such butcher is Gary Bentley whose shop, Bentley’s of East Moseley, was transformed when he supervised much of the building work himself through a local builder, using CRS to find the appropriate fittings. With a touch of understatement, he says: “We knocked the shop around a bit.”

In fact, he removed an old cashier’s desk half-way along the shop, that had effectively cut it in half, and redeveloped the back end to virtually double the sales area. A new counter and the installation of down-lighters in the ceiling were two of the biggest changes, although Bentley admits virtually everything was changed. Supervising much of the work himself and using a local builder saved him £25,000, he reckons. “The customers love the new look and my turnover has gone up by 25%,” he says. “The staff love it too.”

Robert Smith, owner of William Dyer Butchers, Ashstead, Surrey, modernised his shop with a mini-refit that included a new counter and lowered ceiling. “We transformed a 1960s shop into a millennium shop without knocking down any walls or having to retile,” he says.

Tim Cooper, the joint managing director of Acold Distributors, which, in addition to refrigeration installation, carries out shop refits through its specialist interior contacts division, says butchers do not have to spend upwards of £50,000 on a total shop refit. Dramatic improvements to the look and feel of a shop can be made with small changes costing just a few thousand pounds, he says. “We know budgets are tight. New signage can make a massive difference to the outside, as can just changing particular aspects of the shop, like some of the lighting.”

Cutting too many corners in a refit can be costly in the long run, though, warns Mary Irving. “Partial refits usually consist of replacing a counter or piece of equipment, rather than styling part of the shop and can work very well. However, we’ve come across a number of partial re-floorings, where shops have just resurfaced part of the shop floor – the customers’ side, for example – or where it’s been too tempting to leave the area under the counters. So when the counters need to be changed, there’s a footprint of old flooring, and that causes extra expense and hassle.”

Another way to cut costs, especially over the long term, is to install energy-saving items in the shop. Cutting out heat generation in the shop itself is one of the best energy-saving efficiencies that can be made. LED lights can make a real difference, for example. “There’s no question that, as the price of LED lights begins to fall, they are being used more,” says Irving. “LEDs are energy-saving, work better in cold conditions and don’t generate heat, so they are very suitable for working within the refrigerated environment. We use them for under-shelf lighting in counters and multi-decks.”

Robert Smith adds: ”Technology has moved on in the past 10 years and there’s no discernible difference between LED lights and conventional ones; the LEDs give the same light intensity and generate less heat.”

Smith advises butchers considering using them to do their research on the types of gases that the LED bulbs use. “Different types of gases highlight different colours, and can bring out individual colours to highlight different items – meat, fruit and veg, flowers or chocolate,” he says.

Andrew Hurst, a director with t2 Interiors, says that some butchers successfully mix the traditional with the modern when it comes to updating their shops. A simple way to achieve a brighter, more spacious ambience with a shop is to replace dark woods and dark tiles with lighter colours. “English light oak is becoming very popular; it is replacing dark mahogany that was the trend some years ago,” says Hurst. “Using lighter colours makes the whole shop look bigger.”

A new twist to the traditional look is to include a selection of tiles that have photographs reproduced on them. Photographs of the exterior of the shop as it was 100 years ago and of the high street then, for example, remind customers of the heritage of the business. “It successfully mixes the modern with the traditional,” says Hurst. Barry Fitch of Little Eaton, Derbyshire, had a photograph of his shop and the surrounding area as it was in 1900 reproduced across 8sq ft of tiles. “It’s a feature and a talking point in the shop,” says Fitch. “We were going to have a bull’s head or cattle, but we wanted something different and unique to the village. The old photograph reproduced lets customers know we’re part of the heritage of the village.”

Empty action

Fitting out empty premises rather than having to remodel an existing shop can be the easiest and quickest way to achieve a successful look. Wyndham House Butchers in Chiswick, west London was created from an empty shop. Managing director Lee Mullett says: “It’s easier to visualise the layout in empty premises, rather than trying to work around fittings already there or trying to accommodate an existing part of the structure. I wanted something that wasn’t traditional, so the new shop is more along the lines of a deli that speaks to people about food.”

There are plenty of nods to tradition in the shop, however. Gleaming stainless steel hanging rails create a feature behind the counter and come in useful for hanging game and gammons on occasions. There is a blackboard on the wall for giving customers information and, while the shop has a modern, bright feel, it maintains warmth through the use of vinyl, wood-effect, flooring and by contrasting coloured walls; one wall is white and the other a soft sage green.

Lee Hillier also refitted an empty shop. He took out a 15-year lease on premises on the outskirts of Stratford upon Avon last year, so had a blank canvas to create his ideal business. Located within a housing to the east of the town made famous by William Shakespeare, the shop is just over a mile from the playwright’s birthplace, but more importantly within a quarter mile of 75 offices and factories. Hillier’s ‘to be or not to be’ moment came when he realised the potential of so many businesses on his doorstep and the crucial fact that the shop he was considering leasing had parking – a luxury difficult to find in Stratford’s town centre. Customers can also get to the shop without having to go through the difficult town centre.

On the end of a block of three shops, the new premises, formerly a hairdressers, has been developed into 600sq ft of sales area, with a further 200sq ft devoted to preparation space. Having decided that the location was right, his concept was to create a shop that was modern and bright, rather than traditional. ICM Shopfitting was commissioned to carry out the work because it was local to Hillier’s business. “In my opinion, customers don’t want to see old fashioned stripes and sawdust,” says Hillier.

His priorities in fitting out the shop shell were display counter, lighting, colour scheme, and the location of refrigeration motors. Initially, he considered a straight display cabinet, but invested in a more stylish, top-of-the-range curved model that snakes through the length of the shop. It was made in Portugal by Jordao. ICM’s business development manager, Paul Griffiths says: “Price was important, of course, as was quality and energy efficiency.”

Hillier’s other consideration was to ensure plenty of space around the counter. The shop is also fitted with a dairy case to display a range of goods. Special lighting is fixed above a false ceiling to highlight specific areas of display, and to create a modern, bright ambience. Low heat-emitting units, specially encased to ensure food safety, were chosen. Angled fluorescent lighting and specially selected wall wash lighting to create the right ambience were also selected. The colour scheme is predominantly green and cream.
Motors for the display cabinet, a walk-in freezer and walk-in fridge are located on the roof of the shop rather than inside the building itself, to cut down on noise and heat. “It costs more initially to put them on the roof, but it pays off because there is no noise in the shop from them, and no heat. That means the air conditioning has to work less hard. They are also easier to maintain and repair, being on the roof. You have to be sure the local council will allow it, though. Being new, they are quiet; even so, the council came round at midnight to take a noise reading.”

In total, Hillier invested £95,000 on the new look, with half his budget going towards refrigeration and a third on his main display counter. He obtained finance through a Swedish Bank, Handelsbanken, that has a number of branches in the UK. A representative visited the proposed site and funding was agreed within two weeks. Hillier describes the service as helpful, efficient and personal – “like banking was 30 years ago”. He made little progress with two British banks he had used for some 20 years and was so impressed with the Swedish bank that he has now moved his mortgage and personal banking to them. They advised him to put his business banking with Alliance & Leicester, now part of Santander, because it was free.

Palmers Butchers, in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, set out to achieve greater efficiency and better working conditions for its staff when it refitted its seaside town shop last autumn. Director Tim Gardner says the refit involved stripping it virtually to a shell. To improve the work environment, more space was given over to the preparation area by trimming the length of the counter and upgrading all the lights.
A new counter was fitted that was a quarter length shorter than the old one. “We found we had to constantly find things to fill up the final quarter of the old counter,” says Gardner. Now, staff find it easier to get work done; more can be done behind the sales area and more quickly than working on the floor above. So efficiency and speed have increased, and health and safety is better, because there are fewer trips up and down stairs.