Malik Ullah is a Store Manager in Ashton-on-Mersey. For the last six months his team have been trialling new systems, processes and technologies as part of the Leading the Way programme – which is looking at ways to make life easier for our colleagues in stores. Here he talks about his experience

Across the board retail is tough right now. I joined Co-op about a year ago and before that I worked for Tesco. Chatting to friends who work for other retailers, it’s the same for everyone. We’re all under pressure.

So when I was first approached to run a ‘test’ store I was dead excited. I’d done similar things in the past and that really helped me.

Essentially we’re the store that tests everything Co-op is thinking about introducing – there are other stores who are testing individual changes but I’d say we’re the hothouse.

After us, the changes will go into a range of different ‘trial’ stores to make sure they’re right and work on a bigger scale, before going to our Stores of Excellence. Then they’ll be rolled out across the rest of our stores.

There’s a lot of work still to be done, but everyone should see the successful changes gradually over the next twelve months.

Systems and processes

There’s not just one thing that’s changed. When you come to our store you’re going to find that it’s de-cluttered – there’s lots of space.

Point of Sale changes: Colleagues know that after a busy weekend you come in, fill all your dump bins (wire bins for promotional items), all your fixture displays, outside banners – we’ve lost all that. The time that will save – every store manager should love it.

So how are we shouting about our offer? Our Customer Service (CSAT) results show that customers aren’t bothered that we’ve lost all these things – before this trial our scores were at 8.1, now we’re at 9.3. To a customer if that product is available on the shelf, it’s clean and tidy and has a price on it, that’s all they want to know.

Handling cash: We used to have seven different sheets of paper and fill them in every day. We’ve just got one sheet now – we count our tills every day and count the safe three times a week.

Gap scan (counting what products are missing) and capping shelves (top shelf for products normally stored in the warehouse): We used to spend about three to four hours a day checking gaps but now we’re spending a lot less time doing that which leaves us more time to do what’s right for the customer. Our customers don’t even notice our capping shelves are there. If something’s off sale but they can see it above they can call one of us to get it down for them. It helps with availability.

In-store bakery: Before it was so time-consuming – you’d bake one thing, put them in a bag with three different stickers. Now we use our new automated production pad which tells us what to put in the oven, then we put it out – no labels, nothing. 

In-store bakery

Technology and new equipment

Intelligence shelving: It doesn’t help you fill shelves quicker but if someone comes in and robs all your meat, it will immediately send a message to your pager. It gives us the confidence to fill more meat and gives availability to the customer.

Tablet: This will change everything – it helps us be mobile. We can check our emails, policies are on there – in future you’ll be able to do your rotas from here. At the moment I have to go to the till to check my email. It doesn’t help with communication. Our Digital team are working on some exciting stuff that’s probably way in the future but we’re trialling the early versions. Read this blog post to find out more.

Headsets: These have really improved communication. Colleagues don’t ever feel threatened or alone as they know someone is always listening – we’re connected. It also cuts out all that to-ing and fro-ing from the warehouse. We only use the tannoy for customer announcements now.

Bringing colleagues on the journey

At first there was a little bit of negativity from colleagues who were worried about losing more hours, but they weren’t looking at the bigger picture. I said to them: ‘Look how much easier your job is going to be in the long run’.

It’s human nature – people don’t like change. I took my colleagues out of the store, sat them down and asked them for feedback. I told them that my door is always open – I’m with them.

I gave them the responsibility and ownership. Now there’s healthy competition between them.

All my team are so confident and can talk anyone through what this programme looks like and how these changes have made their job easier.

Even in the busy times you can feel that calmness. The results are in front of you.

Colleagues are happy, customers are loving it, and sales are up.

Malik Ullah

Store Manager

Join the conversation! 51 Comments

  1. Hi when i first signed in to the co op site i thought i was on the correct one to do with the pay slips. However i seem to be caught up in colleagues stories and the like. Please can you remove me from this mailing site. I have now found the correct form regarding the new pay slips and have submitted it. This is the only site i need with the greatest respect. Kind regards Phyllis

    • Hi PhyllisBuck8

      All you need to do is unsubscribe from this blog. There’s usually a button at the bottom of a story saying unsubscribe, or on the right hand side of the page click the Follow button to ‘Unfollow’ if that makes sense. Hope that helps. Thanks ^Rachel

  2. Great progress
    Look forward to having it in our store
    Shop looks amazing
    Well done to all your team

  3. I genuinely find this sort of stuff fascinating but I also find it incredibly frustrating that it’s nigh on impossible to get any more information about it.

    There are a lot of colleagues out there that have a mind and talent for this sort of stuff but they’re located all round the country and not necessarily in the stores that you’ve picked. There should be a defined way to get involved even if it’s just to look at the theory side of things. That way you have more chance of instant buy in, which can only be a good thing when it comes to feeding back any issues.

    • Sorry you feel that way Sam. We have a small number of test stores (which Malik’s store is one of) but we then go onto trial these kind of things up and down the country in lots of different types of store. There’s a weekly listening group run by the programme which you’re more than welcome to get involved in. We’re looking to do much more like this in the future. If you’d like to take part in the listening group send over your details to and we’ll get in contact with you. Thanks ^Rachel

  4. Clearly there is a minimal level needed to keep a store open (1 + 1 in many cases) .

    At low levels of staffing anything that takes unnecessary effort out of the job of running the store has to be a good thing.

  5. So in translation. We are going to lose more hours in store then?

    • Hi Steve, The leading the way programme is not about cutting hours. As Steve says in his Q&A from April 10 ‘I absolutely am in the space where any hours that we take out we want to put back in, but on things that will help colleagues have more time to do their job’. You can watch this in full here, ^Sophie

  6. There are some good ideas being suggested here.

    I know people in the Leading the Way team are reading these and the best ones will end up on the project to do list.

    Keep ’em coming!

  7. Realist
    I think these are excellent ways too make colleagues lives easier, the cynic in me would suggest we will receive less hours as a result ( stores are at breaking point and it would be nice to retain hours )

    I will however say. we currently work a 3 week scheduler and the delivery window is ” ANYTIME ” Between 8am-9pm…… know that’s not at all simple to work with is it !!!

    But credit where credit due. I am impressed with the simplified way of work

    • Thanks for your feedback. ^Sophie

    • I agree. Some of these ideas are brilliant, especially the “top shelf” idea for clearing over stock. We’ve been using similar techniques in store but usually an Area Manager will come along & tell us to “stick to policy.” This is so frustrating when policy is actually working against efficiently & gap reduction. So being allowed to “think outside the box” is a welcome change from blinding following policies which work against making profit. However, there is still an issue with low staffing levels which is not being addressed. It’s all very well making systems more efficient, that’s great, we should have been doing it sooner but the biggest drain on time is working deliveries. Running one on one makes the process of accepting deliveries, unloading & working them a slow & inefficient task. Picking gaps is no use either, especially when what you need is at the bottom of a heavily stocked cage. This is not serving the customers needs at all. We need better staffing levels to truly maximize efficiency in the delivery process.

  8. I would like some more information on no packaging or labelling on isb. With allergy info a priority and potential for customers to move products away from their sel location how are we guaranteeing we have the right product offered to the customer. Also flash labels really do drive volume sales on bakery so remove all seems an own goal.

    • Hi Collin. Sorry it’s taken me a while to get back to you but I wanted to get the correct info from the Leading the Way team. This is their response:

      If the products are packaged then the label is still on the back and if it’s loose then the allergens are on the shelf edge label and the PLU card, just like we do now with loose ISB.

      We’ve actually trialled the flash labels across 50 stores and haven’t seen any decrease in sales at all, we’ve actually seen an increase. We think this is because customers can see the product quality more. We’ll continue to keep an eye on it before we roll it out to all stores.

      Thanks ^Rachel

    • I like the flash and flavour labels. I think they sell the products quicker. It really just takes second to add labels so is this about saving money on producing labels rather than saving time in the bakery ?

      • Sandra. I am sure that you are doing what you do because you think its the right thing to do and I respect you doing that. Have you tried not doing the labels to test your idea that they sell the product quicker ?

        Leading the Way is testing each idea carefully to make sound decisions and this is why there is a store pilot going on.

        The problem with doing things that don’t seem like they take up much time is that if you’re doing lots of things because “it really just takes seconds” the time adds up.

        LTW doesn’t want you to have to do anything unnecessary – there’s more than enough to do!

  9. I love the changes, and the lack of clutter.
    However, I do wonder how you handle reps coming in demanding they put up shippers.
    We regularly have reps doing that, even when we don’t have any stock to put on them.
    This l leaves us in a position where we can either have empty shippers sat in our already too small warehouse or dismantle the unit knowing it’ll likely break and we won’t have a place to display the stock once it comes into store.

    • Glad you love the changes Chris. We’re doing lots of work with our suppliers on shippers. We’ve just put a strict set of rules in place with them and review every shipper that goes into one of our stores including their size and quality. You should notice some improvements very soon. Thanks ^Rachel

  10. These all sound like great changes and will help massively, but cutting staff hours won’t help them? Easy job doesn’t pay the bills? We serve 200-400 customers in very short periods on week days and have 4 trolls bit only 2/3 staff, so who’s putting the stock back on the shelves? How about investing in the teams to help give the customer a faster and more efficient shopping experience? Every single cost cut seems to always come from the bottom-up. I think we should look after the ctm’s more and they will look after us.

    • Hi Jon. Good to hear you feel positive about this. The changes through the Leading the Way programme will help all colleagues, whoever they are. In Malik’s store the CTM is behind the changes too. It’s not about cutting staff hours, it’s about simplifying the work we do every day so we can have time back to serve our customers and provide them with a more efficient shopping experience. Everything we’re doing will help us invest in higher wages for our colleagues doing a fantastic job day in day out in store. Without these changes we just couldn’t afford it. Hope that helps. Thanks ^Rachel

      • So, when are these higher wages coming along then? I feel as if I’m doing two people’s jobs now yet my pay increase this year will be 17p/hr. No wonder so many colleagues are feeling exploited.

  11. Some interesting changes to be sure. But I’m extremely skeptical that it’ll save us time overall. In my experience, when tasks are made easier, the team is given even less time to do everything.
    At the moment we’re currently struggling on every shift to get all the tasks that need doing before the end of the night. I very rarely take any break knowing that the half hour unpaid dinner break will put us even further behind.
    On a different note, haven’t other stores being doing these things for years? Why have we only caught up?
    I really would love to be proved wrong. I would love to be able to have gap processes cut down and allowed to be able to serve customers for an extra hour or so without being put behind on the other tasks. However, I’m reaching breaking point.

    • Hi Severon. Thanks for your comments, as you’ll have you’ll have noted from the article, your colleague was very optimistic and positive about the changes he has experienced so far. It’d be good to get your continued feedback once changes are implemented in your store too. You should always take your full break too, it’s your chance to rest. ^Ian

  12. Hi there. Team Leader in North Yorkshire. Anything to help me be more proactive in my job, allowing me to lead my team and push sales will be greatly appreciated. At present, I’m a ‘shelf stacker with a set of keys’ and all I do is push full cages around the warehouse and fill gaps. I don’t have the time or the tools to do anything else. I’m always firefighting and never have the opportunity to grow as a team member or develop my team.
    Keep striving for new ideas.

  13. There are some great ideas Malik not if am allowed to comment on here as am just a ctm but think some of the trial ideas will be great in the store I work in Bath especially the headset after recent troubles with kids and people stealing instore may of helped where I witnessed a serious assault on one of the stores team leaders!!
    Hope the ideas do get approval and in place soon to make it a happy and safe place to work for me and all the other colleges!!

    • Thanks for your feedback Leon. It’s great to hear you like the sound of some of the tools your colleagues are working on. By the way any colleague is allowed to comment on here, just so you know for next time 🙂 ^Catherine

  14. When will they realise we need more staff to serve customers to give great service and do right by our customers…… the jobs they are streamlining are the very jobs they created to make our job easier last time they culled the hours! Now they are removing these jobs in a back handed way as a “where with you and we’ve listened move” to make us think it’s to help us! Deluded!

    • Hi ‘Not Falling for it!’, sorry to hear you think that way. The Leading the Way Programme is about your colleagues working together to create new tools, tech, processes and ways of doing things to help make all colleagues jobs and live in store easier. This has never been done before.You may find this video from Steve regarding Leading the Way of interest: ^Catherine

  15. Headsets would be good, when you are one to one, and you are the only one on the floor…..not a good feeling….headsets would help counter that

    • We has headsets brought in 4 years ago. Unfortunately facilities have never signed a maintenance contract with Quail the supplier. When they break, that’s it. Ours went down 3 years ago. 4 ams, regional, divisional, facilities manager and area risk manager. Nobody able to help get them fixed.

      • You need to moan a but more. ive had them break in two stores and have replaced them each time, that was on the revenue list. no idea where it is now. but they were and have been ordered.

  16. Would love to see the intelligent shelving in our ironbridge store to help combat the meat thieves!

  17. Sounds fab, as a business we have to get used to continuous change as our competitors are doing it. Successful businesses constantly review and change to meet customer needs and demands. Change is good!

    Well done Co-op!!!!

  18. Fantastic article and feedback with some surprises such as CSAT. Very positive step in the right direction. Well done everyone involved.

  19. Well done Malik and team.. good to know Co-op is changing with the times/adapting to new challenges.

  20. I don’t think anyone would deny that payroll costs are an issue but it’s a choice as to how we reduce those costs.

    There are only two things a business can do, increase revenue or reduce costs.

    Personally I’m encouraged to see some intelligent work which store colleagues are having a strong role in shaping “bottom up” compared to another set of changes imposed “top down”.

    Given the choice between this and OneHR I know which one I’d pick to make colleagues’ lives easier.

  21. Well done Malik!

    Just goes to show how lots of little changes can make a massive difference to the team and your customers. Excited to see some of these rolled out to all stores in the future 🙂

  22. “At first there was a little bit of negativity from colleagues who were worried about losing more hours, but they weren’t looking at the bigger picture. I said to them: ‘Look how much easier your job is going to be in the long run’.”

    Indeed, you have to tow the party line with your store colleagues, but lets be honest here Malik, EVERYTHING your store is testing is to help reduce payroll costs.

    • Hi Store manager It’s all about making jobs easier in store and stopping those things we do that don’t actually add value to our customers, our colleagues and the business. It’s about making the most of the money we do have to spend. We’re in a tough retail market and we can’t afford to be spending money on things that don’t make sense. Hope that makes sense to you. Thanks ^Rachel

      • Thanks for your reply Rachel, I do agree with the sentiment that its making our lifes easier to do these things, and I do agree with cutting costs, and payroll is our no1 cost. But historically the number of hours cut has usually been disproportionate to the task removed. For example the recent cuts to gap process, hours taken away felt too much. We all agreed on our area that we never used that number of hours on gap, they were used elsewhere in store on other tasks. I can’t complain personally as my store is one on one so can’t loose any more hours, but I think I speak fairly accurately for most store managers here.

        My store is actually trialling the new vocovo headsets and to be fair I’m looking forward to seeing how they make our lives easier, security more than anything else. I just need to be careful, being a fairly close-knit team, that my colleagues don’t end up using them to talk about Coronation Street or Game of Thrones.

        I would also look forward to a world without scruffy clipstrips and endless bulky promotion changes (with all its associated legacy stock).

        What I’d love is if we could trial intelligent shelf edge labels. We had them with United Co-op in a few stores until Group took over. A system called iLid (also used widely in Champion supermarkets in France). Kiddicare also used them. An extension on that would be intelligent datastrips, with full-length shelf displays that change with your plans – so never having to change an SEL again, just update the strip when you’ve done a plan. Don’t even know if these exist tbh, and it’d be a vast investment, but it’d be a great idea!

    • Yes, I don’t think anyone would deny that payroll costs are an issue but it’s a choice as to how we reduce those costs. There are only two things a business change can do, increase revenue or reduce costs. CSAT scores are up slightly as well by the way.

      Personally I’m encouraged to see some intelligent work which store colleagues are having a strong role in shaping “bottom up” compared to another set of changes imposed “top down”.

      Given the choice between this and OneHR I know which one I’d pick to make colleagues’ lives easier.

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