Sohail Saleem: ‘It’s a different world to when my parents opened up’

What twenty-something hasn’t bickered with their parents about their future?

Store: Xtra Local

Location: Uddingston, South Lanarkshire

Staff: Five part-time

Hours: 7am-8pm Monday-Saturday, 7am-5pm Sunday

Size: 500sq ft

Trading since: April 2012

Style: Based on the main road within a trading estate there are two independent competitors, a Poundstretcher and a B&M discount store nearby.

Sohail Saleem, who runs Xtra Local Tollhouse in the small town of Uddingston in Scotland, is no exception. The 20-year-old is currently trying to keep everyone happy by attending university and ploughing time into growing the family business.

“My parents wanted me to have an education first and I’m learning a lot, but I’d rather be on the shop floor,” says the proud second-generation retailer. “I know they want the best for me, but there is so much to do here.”

Sohail says that he is learning to improve his parents’ store by using their own experiences, and combining them with knowledge from other successful retailers. He keeps an eye on the multiples and he’s even doing his final year university project on the convenience sector.

“There are just so many amazing retailers out there and it’s a different world to when my parents opened up,” he explains.

When his father had triple bypass heart surgery last year, Sohail coped with the emotional pressure, as well his studies and the store, by focusing on the basics. He learnt how to manage his time, take full advantage of the shop’s EPoS system to learn about bestsellers and replaced individual pricing with shelf labels “for a smarter look”.

He was only a teenager at the time, and his customers helped him open the store to make sure he was safe and unload the stock.

“My mum was worried about me being on my own so early. As soon as customers realised what happened they helped reassure her,” he says. “It’s my parent’s business and I wanted to do the best for them.”

As well as focusing on the basics, the retailer remained level-headed by staying true to his customers’ tastes. Nearby construction workers use his store to boost their energy with a hot bacon roll from Sohail’s kitchen and wash it down with a chilled soft drink.

An attempt to rearrange his soft drinks quickly made Sohail realise that customers wanted immediacy. “I took them out of the fridge to make room for wines, but they’re workers; they need to hydrate. They can’t get drunk at work,” he explains.

Listen to your parents: “We have argued over the store – which family-run business hasn’t?,” says Sohail. But he understands the importance of listening to them as well as learning from their mistakes.

Shop around: Sohail makes several visits to multiples to examine prices and understand how he can improve his. He then uses this knowledge to make the most of cash & carry trips.

Don’t shy away from the digital opportunity: “Of course retailers use Facebook and digital advertising. It should be second nature to my generation and to all independent retailers,” he says.

Many retailers have felt the pain from the expanse of the discounters, so it’s surprising that the opening of B&M Stores, which sells wine for as little as £3.99, hasn’t jaded Sohail.

His reaction to a new discount store is one of his proudest moments. He fought back by dropping the price of bread to £1 and created a £5 wine bay to encourage after-work drinks. Sales did drop, but he says that he managed to retain a lot of customers and he’s proud he took on
the discounter battle so early in his career – it has made him wiser.

“The discounters are devaluing the industry,” he says. “They’re making people get used to low prices without understanding the impact they have on small businesses and suppliers, like farmers.”

From the discounters’ impact on farmers to food wastage, Sohail is aware of the close ties convenience retail has with other business and environment sectors. He communicates it to shoppers through his store and blog. His in-store kitchen uses meat from the nearby butcher and he limits his fresh produce to reduce food wastage as his shoppers, “the workers”, aren’t interested enough in it.

Sohail writes about the life of an independent retailer in his blog, and from our July 28 issue he will be Retail Express’ new columnist.


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