Friday, May 31, 2024

Small town values, big city drive

The nearest competition may be 100km away, but Chamen’s SUPA IGA Condobolin is not leaving success to chance. 

By Hailey Settineri.

Chamen’s SUPA IGA Condobolin is a family business that has traded for more than 60 years. Throughout this time, the store in central NSW has changed in size, appearance and even name – in fact, it was one of the first stores to trade under the IGA banner back in the days of Davids Holdings.

The store is owned by John Chamen and run by his eldest son, Andrew, who says he is continually seeking ways to improve the store and “put our best foot forward” in order to retain customers.

“We want to give people as little reason to leave us to spend their money as we can,” he told Retail World.

Although there is a small Foodworks store in town, Mr Chamen considers the main competition to be from Woolworths and Coles in Parkes and Bernardi’s and Woolworths in Forbes.

“These are only 100km away, which is only about 55 minutes’ drive,” he said. “People are already travelling to these towns for things like medical specialists and chain clothing stores. With the offer we put forward, there will hopefully be less reason to shop for groceries while they’re out there.”

Chamen’s SUPA IGA ranges more than 25,000 SKUs over 2,000sqm of retail space. Around 400sqm of the store is dedicated to variety or general merchandise and includes a ‘flex’ area for seasonal activity.

“We use the flex area for seasonal activity like Christmas or Easter displays,” Store Manager Christian Dagorne said. “During other seasons, like winter, we’ll use it to introduce soups and oats, that sort of thing. It’s a big feature on the wall that attracts attention from the customers as a point of difference. We’re getting a lot of incremental sales by having this huge flex area.”

Mr Dagorne joined Chamen’s SUPA IGA in January. He said what attracted him to the role of Store Manager was the “wow factor” of the recently refurbished store.

“Andrew has introduced some really interesting concepts,” he said. “For example, our health and beauty section is similar to the Coles concept common to stores in Sydney.”

The health and beauty range grew substantially following the renovations. Mr Chamen said he decided to grow the category because he identified the opportunity

“We’re a small town in a regional area, 100km away from the nearest centre,” he said. “I realised health and beauty was an area that we could capitalise on and get a few extra sales, and it’s worked for us. The sales in that department are up about 15 per cent.”

The refurbishment that led to these changes took more than 10 months to complete. The process involved replacing about 1,400sqm of timber floor with concrete and changing the floor covering on another 600sqm (which was already concrete) from ceramic tiles to vinyl. New shelving was installed and, aside from the meat case, all refrigeration replaced.

Mr Chamen said the store continued to trade throughout the process, despite the difficulties this created.

“At any one time we had up to 500sqm of shop floor ripped out and we relaid aisles several times, just trying to keep it going,” he said.

“Trying to organise concrete pumps and concrete pours while we were still trading was a bit of a headache, to say the least. Bringing machinery in and out was a bit hard at times as well, but we got through it.”

Mr Chamen had anticipated the store would lose 20 per cent of its trade during the renovations, but the work was more disruptive than expected and, at its worst, the store lost 30 per cent of its trade.

“While we were doing it I was scratching my head wondering why people were shopping with us at all,” he said. “It was pretty chaotic. Fortunately, the fact that we’ve been here a long time and have a superior range to our competitors means we’ve got a lot of customer loyalty.”

Once the renovations were complete, Chamen’s SUPA IGA Condobolin attracted compliments from both locals and those passing through the town. But while the store looked the part, Mr Chamen knew something was still missing.

“We got the store up to where I wanted it to be, physically, but I was struggling to develop its presentation and to reach the levels and standards of ranging that was needed,” he said.

“I’m mostly self-taught, with a little help from my father. I needed a store manager with the experience to come in an do the store justice.”

Mr Chamen put word out to IGA and industry reps and was soon advised to speak with Mr Dagorne, then store manager at Khans SUPA IGA Cobar, 300km away.

“I rang Christian up, out of the blue, and told him I needed to speak to him and he should come across and see the store,” Mr Chamen said. “He liked what he saw and a couple of months later he came on board as Store Manager. We’ve been going strongly ever since.”

Mr Dagorne brings a wealth of retail management experience to Condobolin. Before his time at Khans in Cobar, he held senior positions with Coles, Woolworths, IGA and Franklins.

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Photos by Kathy Parnaby.

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