Amit Patel refers to his store as being run by a “husband and wife team that struggles for family time” and for many retailers this is often the case.
- Location: Belvedere, Kent
- Hours: 6am-8pm, Mon to Fri, 7am-8pm Sat, 8am-5pm Sun
- Staff: Four
- Size: 600sq ft
- Trading started: 2005
- Style: An unaffiliated store on a main road in a residential area. There are two independent stores within a mile. A nearby Tesco Express closed earlier this year.
They understand that in convenience retail, you cannot walk out the front door in the same way as a desk job, because the business pressure stays with you. That is why Amit is trying to raise the profile of small business struggles, in particular the ‘low-level’ crime that retailers know all too well, but police often brush off.
The unaffiliated retailer took over his father’s store – Belvedere News, Food and Wine – in 2005, but plans to use his own experience to address the trivial attitude towards retail crime and the concerns of small businesses.
Last month, he single-handedly arranged a hustings event with prospective MPs, and other small businesses in his constituency, with the ACS chairing the meeting. It allowed retailers to ask the questions important to them and their store, including the threat to the high street, the living wage, business rates and national insurance.
Amit has faced lots of battles. For example, he was doing a great trade with chilled food aimed at his eastern European customers, but it quickly disappeared when a rival shop opened.
- Small spaces can be the key to success: A small investment can make you stand out. “A key cutting machine is often overlooked as a good idea, but they do say that simple ideas are often the best,” says Amit.
- American sweets: Throughout Amit’s store, American products are on display: near the door it’s sweets, and to the rear it is snacks and drinks. Amit says: “I discovered the American trend and both kids and adults seem to love it.”
- CCTV: It’s important to make it clear to potential shoplifters that you will take action against them. “Investing in a good CCTV system does most of the work for you, especially if you make sure that you have a large screen,” Amit says.
“We were selling a lot of Polish hams and beers, but as the community grew, my customers were taken away by the Polish shop across the road,” Amit says.
The hit to his earnings made Amit think outside the box and make the most of the space in his store, adding Western Union and investing £1,500 in a key cutting machine. In three months, the machine covered its costs and he’s taken back some of his stolen customers because they use Western Union.
“The machine doesn’t take up much space, as it fits snugly behind the till,” he says. “Our prices start at £3.50, so we’re a lot cheaper than if you were to go on the high street. We get a lot of repeat customers because of the landlords and offices nearby.”
As well as providing basic services for his customers he is working with his local police force to address the safety needs of his customers as well. He was the only independent retailer to speak at the ACS crime summit in March. He discussed his experiences of retail crime as well as how to build a solid foundation in the community.
He has been working with Bexley police force to arrest drug dealers that come into his store, and says retailers need to think outside the shop’s four walls to establish good relationships.
“I try and minimise the risk of shop theft by changing the store layout and making it obvious we have CCTV cameras, but social media is just as important,” he says.
“I follow the police on Twitter, it’s the quickest way to get and send information to them.”
As well as the everyday bustle of running a store, the General Election has kept Amit even busier and he is now trying to arrange an MP litter clear-up day that was suggested by Conservative candidate Anna Firth at his hustings. But what is he going to do once the political storm has blown over?
“I have thought about running as an MP in the next term, but my girls are just a bit too young for it at the moment.”