KANIVA IGA has distinguished itself amongst strong competition across the state, taking out top honours at the grocery group's Retail Excellence Awards in Melbourne.
On April 30, Lachlan and Nikki Doyle, the dual owners of the Kaniva store, attended an awards ceremony at the Park Hyatt in Melbourne where they won the Retail Transformation and Innovation award.
The award is given out to selected stores across the state and looks at the ways IGA stores innovate and improve throughout the years.
Mr Doyle said the couple was honoured to receive the award as it validated the many ideas they implemented in the store.
"It took us probably seven or eight years to get into a financial position where we could re-invest into the shop to make it something we were really proud of," he said.
"The locals really supported us because they knew we were reinvesting the money back into the business and the town. It was quite an exciting time for the town."
The Doyles have owned and operated the Kaniva IGA for more than 10 years after moving from Melbourne for a lower cost of living in the country.
Originally from the corporate sector, the couple did not have much supermarket experience when they decided to purchase the 141-year-old shop, besides Mr Doyle's father who had operated a supermarket when he was in university.
Getting the store in working order was a big hurdle for the new owners, who could only afford a serious renovation of the building in 2020.
"At the start, it was probably pretty hard when you are moving back - you don't have access to the same services as you do in the city." he said.
"Also, you have people who have been in all their life and you are trying to fit into groups that have been mates since kindergarten. So it took us a while to break into the community."
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the couple was operating the store from a 60 square metre pop-up space whilst renovations were taking place.
Mr Doyle said community support was critical during this time.
"We were in the pop-up shop for about 16 weeks. We were surprised that our sales really didn't change that much despite going from more than 300 square metres to 60. We had one-way shopping and one register," he said.
Beyond a renovation and expansion of the store's floor space, the Doyle's also found ways to maximise efficiency for their products.
"During COVID we put on a full-time chef on. We have Brendan who works for us and he does all of the chickens throughout the day, he does all of the meat for our deli," he said.
"We put him on to minimise waste in the store, and we virtually pay his wage in what we used to throw out in the store. In our deli too we offer things that a town a big bigger than us can not offer."
The store has also cornered the market on premium and artisanal products. Mr Doyle said he wanted to offer an experience which couldn't be found in larger stores in bigger towns.
This includes stocking craft beers and cured meats, as well as making season fresh products such as sushi and rice paper rolls in the summer.
"As a business owner, we are always trying to look at our customers and give the them best offer. Just because something is done that way in the past does not mean it has to be done that way tomorrow," he said.
"All my staff know each customers first name, and we use those names to create a relationship between us.
"Bigger stores, like in Bordertown or Nhill - there are 3000 people in those towns to it is hard to know everyone."