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Fierce competition has forced Riki Mhatre to change his tactics and focus on what he can do best to stand out. Tamara Birch finds out how he’s making his store a success
Located on a main street close to a busy hospital, Riki Mhatre’s Today’s News (Lifestyle Express) faces competition from 12 nearby stores. The pressure was having a damaging effect on his shelves, which prompted him to rethink several categories and become ruthless in removing products that are not earning their space on shelf.
“We started out as an off-licence. A few years ago, our alcohol turnover was approximately £15,000 a month, but it has since dropped to around £5,000 due to the competition surrounding my store,” he says. “My challenge has been to replace a lot of this category to boost sales.” Riki has been tweaking his shop layout every few months for the past two years, such as reducing his alcohol range from three metres to just one, but increasing his range of impulse products and food to go.
In the three years that Riki has run the 80-year-old shop, he has challenged himself to tailor his offer more to his customers, who tend to be visitors to the hospital. “Although some of my customers are regulars and I can build a strong relationship with them, a large part of my customer base are patients or walk-in customers,” he explains.
This means that many of his shoppers are not looking to buy big baskets of groceries and are instead looking to him for an impulse snack or drink. Riki once stocked his confectionery at the back of the store, but since relocating these products near the counter, customer spend overall has increased.
The other way Riki brings shoppers to his store is with services, such as bill payments and parcel collection. He recently introduced an Amazon Locker, becoming the only convenience store in Newcastle to do this, he claims, which has been a great footfall driver for his business.
“For a while, the shop was mainly a place that customers came to pay their bills, but now I find that they are also buying soft drinks and confectionery. I still stock grocery items, but my main focus is impulse,” he says.
Six months ago, Riki began investing more in food to go, introducing new bakery lines, which are freshly baked and offer a point of difference to his competitors, as part of his improvements.
“All the new cakes and bakery items we stock have proved to be big sellers. We don’t stock many of them as they have short dates, but they are showing no signs of slowing down in popularity,” he explains.
Expanding his food-to-go range has been popular with his transient customer base, who select his store for his speed of service.
Riki holds strong relationships with suppliers, encouraging reps to visit bi-weekly, but the most enjoyable aspect of his ownership, he says, is getting to interact with his customers.
He is always looking for ways to improve his customer service and build his relationship with them.
“I think the difference between me and my competitors is I talk to my customers and find out their needs,” he says. “For example, a few customers wanted more white chocolate, so I introduced KitKat White and Twix White, which have proved to be very popular.”
Riki loves hearing about the history of his store, and so do a lot of his customers. He is the latest in a line of more than a dozen shopkeepers on the site, continuing a long line that he is very proud of.
“As the shop is so old, many local residents come in and tell me about what it was like in its early days,” he says.
“Many of them associate the store with happy memories, which is very heart-warming to hear, and I get to know my customers on a deeper level.”