STORE OF THE MONTH – COUNTDOWN, HAWERA

Shane Cooper started his career in the grocery industry 21 years ago as a retail assistant. He progressed to become a member of the Woolworths family after an opportunity arose for him in the Palmerston North distribution centre as an inwards goods assistant, picker and
forklift operator.

“I then worked in New Plymouth as produce 2IC as well as other roles such as duty manager/longlife assistant. I took up the responsibility as Longlife Manager (LLM) at Countdown Spotswood, while supporting other stores in my group. In 2015, I opened Vogeltown as the LLM, which was by far my most exciting time in retail so far,” said Cooper.

He was later appointed as store manager at the old Hāwera store where he spent two years in the role before relocating to Countdown Spotswood as store manager. Since June, Cooper has held the position of venue manager at the brand new Countdown Hāwera store.

The new Hāwera store is the first store in the country to be an accredited Be.Accesible store. To achieve this accreditation, the store had a large focus on creating a store that was more accessible for everyone. This included a number of initiatives such as providing mobility scooters for its customers, wider aisles with less clutter, an EVAC chair in case of emergencies, contrasting colours for doors, wider mobility carparks, a visual alarm system and specially designed disabled persons shopping trolleys for a simpler and easier in store shopping experience. “The trolley is called a Caroline cart. It allows those customers who may find shopping difficult to be seated at the rear of the trolley with a parent or carer pushing.”

The store also plans to hold Quiet Hours once the team and customers have settled in. The special hour is designed to support a low-sensory shopping experience and is beneficial to people with conditions such as Autism.

In addition to earning a Be.Accesible accreditation, the new store has improved its capability to provide both pickup and delivery for online shopping. “We reviewed our customers’ delivery options, evaluating delivery areas to service both north and south Hāwera. This has resonated well with our customers as this service assists in making Kiwi’s lives a little better and easier every day.”

The number of both serviced and self-service checkouts was also increased along with the addition of some the latest innovations such as produce fogging for maintaining fresh leaf vegetable quality, a significant increase in ‘better-for-you’ offerings, multimedia screens highlighting grower and supplier stories and products within the store, and a wider range of trolley options including kids sized shopping carts.

“We have dedicated ‘better-for-you’ aisles, which include a health foods chiller with healthy options for customers. We have also increased the number of our SKUs from 171 to 619, and this continues to be well received by our customers,” added Cooper. “We want to make Countdown Hāwera the most preferred supermarket in Hāwera, through our extended product range, customer service and fresh foods offering.” Cooper also makes a point to support local businesses when he can - local producers like Hamish and Kate Dunlop who are growing the South American ancient super seed quinoa.

Countdown Hāwera is also committed to sustainable initiatives and reducing waste. One of Countdowns policies is to donate safe, high-quality surplus food to The Salvation Army and other local food rescue charities and food banks. This assists in minimising the stores waste that would previously be sent to landfill. It is part of Countdown’s goal towards zero food waste as well as directly helping those New Zealanders who might otherwise go hungry. “We watch what we throw in the bin, recycle what we can and if it’s not in use we turn it off,” he explained.

“The single-use plastic bag phase-out was the standout highlight for our customers not only in Hāwera but for the entire company, as a business pioneering the change and having an environmentally friendly initiative was great.”

Customer engagement has also been a focus for the team. Countdown Hāwera welcomed 17 new team members as they transitioned from the old to the new store. Cooper explained however, that the team still has a number of long service team members who have built up a rapport and that service confidence with local shoppers.

“The store team is very engaged and provide a great shopping experience. Our people are an important part of our business, and we’re proud to provide great employment opportunities for Kiwis in communities like this one.”

The grocery industry is a fast-moving juggernaut which creates a challenge for Cooper and his team. “Keeping up with customer demands which are changing every day can be a challenge. We need to be one step ahead of not only the competition but the customer also.”

With his 21 years’ worth of experience in the industry, Cooper has a lot of achievements under his belt. From becoming group special matter expert in the longlife department, to becoming the manager of this new store. But his greatest achievement comes down to adaptability. “This may sound like a cliché, but I think the greatest achievement I have made within the business is the ability to listen and learn from everybody, whether you are a CEO or a checkout operator everybody has something to contribute.”