OPINION: Jai Singh’s hierarchy of expectation

Taking inspiration from Maslow's hierarchy of needs, retail expert Steve Denham tells the story of retailers Jai and Mandeep Singh as they successfully take on the multiples

Jai Singh

When Jai Singh and his wife Mandeep bought their shop in Wheeta Road, Sheffield 12 years ago, they were both experienced retailers. They set out with a simple set of expectations that defined their business plan:

  • Get established in their new community
  • Keep time for their family
  • Build a store operation system that would not mean working excessively long hours

Using Booker’s Premier brand, they were quickly able to build a consistent and reliable offer for their new community. And by retaining all the employees from the previous owner, regular shoppers would continue to see their familiar faces and have the confidence to keep visiting.

One of Jai’s talents is using social media, and so he created a marketing campaign to connect with more people in the community in order to bring them to the store. Beginning with Facebook and Twitter, other platforms were added as they appeared. Takings grew, the store team changed and there was time for their family.

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In 2012 a new Asda store opened a mile from the store and turnover tumbled. Confronted with the highly competitive supermarket they developed a survival plan:

  • Assess and understand all the competition, not just Asda
  • Ensure the store was the best it could be, outside and in
  • Improve staff performance with quarterly performance reviews, a training programme and regular updates about what was happening
  • Only stock the products customers wanted to buy and maximise the Premier promotions

Despite sales taking a hit, net profit was the same as the year before Asda opened. The majority of lost sales were low-margin products. This was an important lesson, and one which Jai and Mandeep drew from when entering the next phase of developing their business.

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In 2015 they extended their store by leasing the neighbouring premises. They had a vision to develop a completely different store that became MJ’s Go Local Extra with Parfetts as the key wholesale partner. Their new hierarchy of expectation was to:

  • Deliver a full convenience store offer, including a strong chilled section
  • Develop a team fully capable of running the store
  • Maintain time for the family

The first year after launching the new store was challenging, as they and their team worked out how to operate in their new environment. Getting the chilled range just right took longest, but with hard work and ongoing improvements it has proven to be a huge success.

This year’s disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic has led to a rethink of priorities, a rebranding and a change of key supply partner. All this has led their Hierarchy of Expectations to be refocused into its current state:

  • Look after themselves and their store team
  • Manage through their key employees
  • Recruit, train and retain high quality people for the business
  • Support their community

The Singhs changed the name of the store to MJ’s Local and Nisa is now their main supply partner. They had access to their range through their Parfetts contact, and so were confident Nisa was right choice for them.

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The huge demands experienced by most neighbourhood convenience stores in March and April this year was a sharp reminder to Jai and Mandeep that they could not return to working long hours as the norm. They restrict their working hours to 40 per week and have confidence in their team to manage the store effectively when they are not there.

Their team has been empowered to operate the business in their absence. The store systems and supply chain have been simplified to make it easier to manage the day-to-day needs of the business. Jai and Mandeep now work 40 hours each week and continue to have weekends with their two sons.

Running an independent business is hugely demanding. By placing their personal needs and expectations at the heart of their business model, Jai and Mandeep ensure that their business does not run them.

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