As a third-generation family member to join Neelam, an independent convenience store based in Hillingdon, West London, Gaurave Sood has reinvented the store to match the latest trends.
It was around five years ago, says Gaurave, when competition grew fierce, and several independent stores opened on his parade, including a large Costcutter across the road.
“Previously, we didn’t stock alcohol because we had a dedicated off-licence next to us. However, once the off-licence started to sell grocery items, we knew we had to step it up if we wanted to keep our customers. Introducing alcohol has been one of the best decisions I’ve made,” he explains.
Alongside introducing alcohol, Gaurave says he has heavily invested in American food and drink, a category that has helped sales soar and has transformed his store into
“Last summer, a local company that directly imports American drinks got in touch with us to talk about their range. When they first came to see us, I was apprehensive about stocking so many new lines, because chiller space comes at a premium for us,” says Gaurave. “However, they assured us that if the drinks didn’t sell, they would take the stock back.
“The shop made space for 10 new Fanta lines, including flavours such as Mango, Pineapple and Toronja, and put the price at £1 – they flew off the shelves immediately.
“I was surprised by how well they did, and even though we don’t make huge margins on them, it’s about giving shoppers something new to try,” says Gaurave. “No other shop on the parade did them at first – we were the first ones – but because we still sell them at £1, people come to us for it.”
This success inspired Gaurave to stock American confectionery, snacks and cereals, including Lucky Charms, Nerds and Twinkies.
“American food and drink is doing really well, and we are now having to restock our American Fanta range every week. We had one customer planning for a big night in with her children, and she bought £30 worth of American chocolate and sweets,” he adds.
“People are buying it in bulk and are willing to pay a premium for it.”
This growth in American products has come from shoppers’ willingness to try new flavours, something that has also been seen across other categories.
He says a few years ago, people were content with buying canned soups and meat, but now, they’re looking for complete meals.
“The plan is to increase our chilled and frozen range and introduce ready meals from brands such as Farm Fresh and Discover the Choice,” he explains.
“As they come price-marked and on offer, I’ve seen loads of shoppers in other stores buying them, and in the future, it is something I’d like to offer as well. And food to go is going to be huge this year, so that’s where I plan to invest.”