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3 tips from an urban retailer

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0030_Gray_YCM Mar 2015_Urban Retailer_1Brad McMullen owns Scoops Convenience Boutique, located in the heart of Toronto. This store may be in the middle of Canada’s largest city, but the McMullen family carved out its own territory in the unique Rosedale neighbourhood in 2008, and the site has been thriving ever since.

Here are three ways McMullen built a strong community of loyal customers in midtown Toronto.

1. Address the right needs at the right time

As a neighbourhood store, it’s important to understand the needs of your customers. McMullen says he’s mapped out the shopping patterns at Scoops, which helps him get his product selection and timing right.

“There are different waves. There’s the morning coffee business, which could be anyone who lives in the neighbourhood. Throughout the day, there’s a decent amount of construction-type trade workers in the neighbourhood, and they’ll stop in to get coffee and cigarettes and snacks,” says McMullen.

“There’s the school crowd, which is usually around 3 o’clock, which is more looking for candy and ice cream. And then there’s the evening crowd, which is more just overall convenience like cigarettes and lottery,” he adds.

2. Play up your strengths, cope with your challenges

McMullen says operating a store in Toronto has its benefits. Thanks to a prime neighbourhood location, Scoops doesn’t face a lot of direct competition, which has allowed it to rise to prominence as a go-to Rosedale spot.

Scoops takes a local approach to its successful coffee and ice cream programs, with supplies coming from two Ontario-based companies: Mountain View Roasters, which roasts for the small Balzac’s Coffee chain, and Kawartha Lakes ice cream.

“We’re a local, independent, family-owned business, so we like working with strong brands that have that local feel and represent quality. Both the Balzac’s and Kawartha Lakes brands fit in with our community values,” says McMullen.

0182_Gray_YCM Mar 2015_Urban Retailer

While Scoops’ location has its perks, McMullen says running a business in a major city comes with a big price tag.

“We own the building, which helps, but all the utilities are going up, minimum wage has gone up, cost of goods has gone up, and even maintenance and repair costs have gone up. Unless you pass those costs on to your customers, it gets more difficult to try to make money.”

3. Don’t get intimidated

McMullen says Toronto can be a great place to prosper as a c-retailer, but you need to choose your location wisely, and stick to the fundamentals.

“The benefit of opening a store in Toronto is obviously the density of the population. The challenge is getting the right location, because it’s very competitive and expensive. A good retailer can be very successful, but if you’re not a strong retailer, I think you can get washed out by the competition,” he says.

But, if you follow McMullen’s example and build your store around the needs of your community, you can be well on your way to winning over customers, no matter how big your city is, or how many stores are down the street.