Thresher is aiming to create a new force in the convenience store sector. But what’s on offer at the new look stores? Fiona McLelland reports

So what does The Local have to offer? Well, in each store, half the space is devoted to drinks, and the other half to a broader convenience offer including chilled snacks, sandwiches, replenishment grocery lines and DVD rental.

The rollout of The Local concept by Thresher Group is an important part of its strategy to reposition itself as a multi-format retailer - and one that is better equipped to tap into the trend away from specialist off-licences and into stores with a broader convenience offer.
As we reported last week, the roll-out is starting with121 stores in the north west of England, which are being converted to The Local format, following successful tests at four stores in Glasgow earlier this year. All the stores are in Thresher’s drinks division, which comprises off-licences trading under a variety of fascias, including Victoria Wine, The Drinks Cabin and Huttons. And it plans to increase the number of Locals to 600, which will also make it one of the largest convenience store chains in the country.
The work complements activity in Thresher’s wine division, which accounts for 60% of its 2,000 stores, all of which will be branded under the Thresher fascia.
At the heart of the format work is a plan to tailor the offer in each store to suit the needs of the local population - all part of a programme designed to turn traditional ‘beer and fags’ off-licences into what Thresher calls micro-convenience stores.
David Kassler, managing director of Thresher’s drinks division, explains: “We have created 15 core models. One is video rental, others are chilled foods and snacks. Not all stores will get all models as we will be asking what the local composition and local needs are.”
Kassler adds: “The idea is to create a whole night in. Our categories are very complementary so people can come in and rent a movie, get a ready meal and drinks and pick up their milk and papers at the same time.”
He makes no bones about the fact that alcohol will remain at the heart of the offer in The Local.
“People know us for our drinks and we have the skill to do major promotions. And until we get established in the convenience sector, our promotions will continue to be through drink.”
But the Local will have a novel look for its drink offer, he says.
“We have a completely new way of merchandising our wine section, specifically for The Local. Instead of laying out by country, we have changed to displaying by brand to make it easier for convenience shoppers. We’ve also created a wall of cold beer and wine, which has increased the amount of chilled drinks we sell.”
The stores are visibly different from what has gone before. But consumers will notice other important changes, says Kassler.
For starters, the implementation of Thresher’s new central stock replenishment system should keep instore availability high.
More important, is that by creating one brand for its drinks division - unifying a plethora of different fascias - Thresher will be able to pursue a much more unified and aggressive advertising campaign for The Local.
Kassler clearly has the crucial Christmas season in mind. “We are spending £500,000 in the run up to Christmas. We’ll be all over the local press and will be delivering promotional leaflets around the houses. It’s a very local business and half of our customers will live within half a mile.”
But as The Local is rolled out, the question remains: can Thresher really create a successful convenience chain using stores with fooprints that range from 700 sq ft to 1,000 sq ft when received opinion has it that a minimum of 1,200 sq ft is required?
The fact that the trial stores had sales uplifts of 35%, enjoyed a footfall rise of 40%, and saw no fall off in drink business, despite a 50% reduction in space, suggests that perhaps it can.
Kassler is clearly upbeat about prospects: “I think there is scepticism from the c-store sector. But the trials showed rapid increases in sales and our customers seemed to like the format.”