Harry Patel has watched his affluent customers, studied their shopping behaviour and had the nimbleness to adjust his range accordingly. As Helena Drakakis learns, this has taken his business in some unexpected directions
Picture a store that caters to an affluent customer base and what do you imagine? Fridges stuffed full of organic vegetables and high-class ready meals? Shelves and shelves of local produce?
Harry Patel’s Kwiksave in Warlingham caters to just such a customer base – including several millionaires among its number. Yet by catering to the needs of his shoppers, listening to them and paying attention to what the local competition is doing, his business has taken another direction entirely.
“I have Sainsbury’s on the same road, and a Co-op nearby. They stock lots of fresh and chilled goods and, when they arrived, I started doing the same for the first six months, but it wasn’t working. I couldn’t compete with the big stores. I had to find my niche and do it well. Touch wood, I’m still here.”
Harry removed his fresh and chilled range from his 1,000sq ft store, leaving only a stripped-down frozen section selling ready meals, desserts and frozen vegetables.
Instead Harry used his 13 years’ trade experience and went in search of a number of other niches to thrive in and found some you’d expect, some you might not.
First, is his impressive, varied range of premium cigars. Harry carries a small but eclectic range that extends from standard Café Crèmes to £49 Cuban cigars.
Although his store is just across the road from a successful tobacconist store, it’s a sign of the strength of the market for top-of-the-range cigars that both businesses manage to thrive.
“My motto is live and let live, so I don’t sell what the guy over the road does but I do keep a range of around 12 products. My bestseller, a Romeo Y Julieta, is also my most expensive, and I get a margin of around 30%.”
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Harry has further tried to tap into this market with an alcohol section that ranges from mid-price bottles of wine to an exclusive £600 Grey Goose vodka in a secure area of Harry’s stock room.
Yet while the typical image of a millionaire chimes with a focus on premium alcohol and cigars, it probably doesn’t conjure up images of an extensive household cleaning range – yet that is exactly where Harry has found another big opportunity.
“I can’t compete on fresh, chilled and meats on price or afford wastage like the multiples can, but I can have a bigger household goods range,” he says.
From several varieties of bleach, to family-sized 110-wash laundry packs at £14.99, toilet roll and cleaning accessories, Harry’s aim is to serve every part of the community, which ranges from commuters to young families and a sizeable retired population.
Realising this could be a key area of focus for his business was, Harry says, a “turning point”.
“People are looking for value, so I have pricemarked goods and larger family packs. I have a great range because I have the space for bulk.”
And supplementing the key categories of alcohol, tobacco and household items is his growing range of in-store services. This includes an open-counter post office – which he installed two years ago and runs on two part-time members of staff – and Amazon parcel pick-up, which is available until the store’s closing time at 11pm.
“Amazon has done well for me,” he says, adding extra purchases such as envelopes increases the profitability of these services.
This might not have been the journey Harry expected to take when he opened the business back in 2013, but his store is a testament to the idea that success is found when you are nimble and responsive.
“You can’t succeed if you don’t try. I learned from my mistakes. Let’s focus on something else that works.”
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