Raj Bhambra’s specialist store caters for discerning drinkers

Raj Bhambra's specialist off-licence has built a reputation for finding the hard-to-find in the world of beer, spirits and wine

This specialist off-licence has built a reputation for finding the hard-to-find in the world of beer, spirits and wine. 

Much of this stems from its drink finder service. “Over the years we’ve offered our customers a drink finder service so if they enquire about a specific, hard-to-find product we look into it and source a supplier,” Co-owner Raj Bhambra explains.

“It can be time-consuming but it helped us to develop our own range and knowledge in store, and it’s very satisfying to be able to help customers in this way.”

This process helped develop the store from the traditional newsagents that it was 16 years ago to the locally-renowned specialist it is today. “Other shops now direct their customers who are looking for specialist spirits that they don’t sell to us,” says Raj.

The three brothers who own and run the shop have also spent time developing the store’s web presence in order to expand their potential catchment area. This includes well-updated Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Google sites, as well as a dedicated store website. “We’ve had customers from Northamptonshire, Sheffield, Kent and even Scotland. For a small shop, we have a great catchment area,” Raj says. 

He added that the next challenge would be to begin selling through the website or an online market place. As with updating Instagram, Raj suggests this could depend on the help and encouragement of younger relatives. “We’re all quite old school and changing is difficult at times, so we need that push,” he says.

The centre of Coventry is covered by a blanket ban on street drinking and Raj and his brothers take steps to prevent the goods sold in store being drunk on the streets. This includes a ban on repeat purchasing of single or small numbers of beer cans throughout the day and limiting opening hours to much less than their licence would allow.

The restricted opening hours provides the family with collective time-off and also puts the focus for improving sales on improving the offering and service. He explains: “Some shopkeepers open more hours and still find themselves struggling, so they open more hours but yet they still find themselves struggling. 

“It’s tough not to with the level of competition independent stores face, but we’ve found that if you build a unique offering, there will be a market for it.”

The store has benefitted from recent on-trade trends such as gin, a focus on quality rather than volume and cocktails. Raj says these often transfer into off-trade demand. “When we first started, you just thought of gin as Gordon’s, Beefeaters and maybe Plymouth. In the past few years, the gin market has really taken off. The opening of gin bars in the area really builds excitement around the products. We’ve got about 90 different gins in stock at any one time.”

Staying on top of trends is essential to keeping the store ahead of the competition. “Spiced rum is on the rise, it’s reputation is rising and it is now selling very well,” he says.


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