A healthy disrespect for planograms has helped Shaws to like-for-likes of 5%, says Elaine Watson

Wander round the aisles at Shaws’ largest branch in Camberley, Surrey, and you won’t see much evidence of category management. Just about every tertiary brand going is on sale - and there’s not a planogram in sight.

With like-for-like sales running at 5% from five stores turning over a cool £11m, however, group general manager Martyn Wilson is making no apologies.

He has 30 years’ experience in neighbourhood grocery retailing under his belt and will have no truck with computer generated “self-fulfilling prophecies” - aka planograms - telling retailers what they should stock. Planograms give a national, not a local view, and they are usually created by a big brand, he says. “Three days after you get one and relay the fixture, their biggest rival launches a new product on the market and your whole fixture is thrown out of skew. The range in each of our stores is different because the demographics are different.”

Although all five Shaws stores are 5,000 sq ft or less, they stock over 10,000 lines and keep all the secondary brands “because we know what our customers want”, says Wilson.

Founded by Stan Shaw after the Second World War, Shaws has since moved from London to Surrey, but still remains very much in the family, says Wilson. “There are still more Shaws than stores, with two generations of Shaws in the business. Even Stan’s widow Babs, [now in her 80s] comes in twice a week to check everything is running smoothly.”

Formerly signed up with Londis, Shaws joined Nisa in the early 1980s, says Wilson.

“This way we can keep our own name over the door, and still make up some of the substantial difference on cost prices between independents and the multiples. Frankly, I can’t see why any sizeable independent is not with Nisa in the current climate.”

Like-for-like sales growth is coming from chilled and ethnic foods, beers, wines and spirits and food to go, successfully installed at the Camberley and Maidenhead stores and due to go into the remaining stores at Woking, Stanwell and Chessington later this year, says Wilson.

However, growth through acquisition is proving tougher. “Finding sites is very difficult. There were three stores we were looking at recently, but Budgens got them.”

The immediate priority is installing a new computer system and ongoing refurbishments to keep the stores up to scratch, he says.But there are also various projects on the go, notably the website - www.shawssupermarket.demon.co.uk. This is currently a marketing tool, but could potentially be developed into a full blown transactional site enabling customers to shop online and collect goods at the stores, says Wilson.

“We’re talking to manufacturers at the moment to look at how we could create coupons on the site that people could print off and redeem at the stores. It’s all about keeping us at the forefront of people’s minds.”

Aside from the usual complaints about personal injury claims, vandalism and swathes of red tape, the only thing Wilson tends to lose any sleep over is staff recruitment and retention.

“It’s the skilled staff that are really missed. People just don’t have the skills that a traditional butcher or greengrocer used to have anymore.

“So we’ve had to set up our own training scheme.”