Doubling the floor space at their Londis store was a challenge for Hitesh Parekh and his son Anish. But, as Steven Lambert discovered, it paid off thanks to listening to customers’ needs and offering great value

When the Post Office decided to close a host of branches as part of its Network Transformation scheme five years ago, it seemed that Hitesh Parekh’s business would be one of the many casualties.

That was until the local community stepped in to defend the retailer and convince the organisation to think twice. Their support was well guided, with Broadoak Post Office going on to win the best performing branch award in 2013.

PB3_8606Hitesh’s son Anish Parekh picks up the story: “My dad took over the business in 1997, which at that time was a small post office and newsagents.

“He became well known in the area, so when the Post Office said he would have to close there was a local outcry.

“He had support from MPs, councillors and residents, who all signed petitions. They also held meetings about it at the pub and restaurant close by, which were filled with about 300 people.”

Looking to give something back to residents and push the business forward, Hitesh decided to transform the shop into a convenience store while maintaining his much-loved post office service.

This in turn led to Anish quitting his job in sales at Kellogg’s and coming on board full time to run the new convenience side of the business.

The pair decided to adopt the Londis fascia and, following a refit that doubled its retail floor space from 500sq ft to 1,000sq ft, the store reopened with a big fun day for customers in March.

The shift to a bigger format had its teething problems, admits Anish: “It was a steep learning curve for me. The shop went from selling between four and 10 loaves of bread a week to between 130 and 140, for example.

“At the beginning we let Londis estimate our stock allocation but, over time and when I got more confident, I began to take more control of this.”

Anish says speaking to his customers was vital for helping him to fine-tune his range and introduce new, profit-driving products early on.

“One of the first areas we looked at was alcohol. We soon discovered after talking to customers that they were looking for different types of ale, which we didn’t have in.

“Londis is quite flexible about us getting products from elsewhere, so we were able to source some ales quite cheaply and put them out at £1 during a promotional period. They’re now a big seller for us and we have them on a three for £5 deal.

“We also put our own deals on where we can, and we always tell customers a week in advance when an offer’s about to finish. For example, we had Yellow Tail Shiraz at £5 a bottle and we had people buying whole boxes of six when we told them the deal was ending soon.”

Anish has also worked hard to increase exposure for the business, getting coverage in local newspapers, using social media to push promotions, and producing his own leaflets to send out to 500 homes.

Early on, some people still believed that we were just a post office and a small shop, so we wanted to change that perception quickly

“Early on, some people still believed that we were just a post office and a small shop, so we wanted to change that perception quickly,” says Anish.

That said, some elements of the old business do remain, including home news delivery. Anish says the store still delivers to more than 100 homes in the local area.

And Londis Broadoak also has its own set of unique services, including free book loans.

Anish explains: “We work with the local library and stock a small selection of books in the shop.

“People can come in, sign their name, rent a book and return it when they like. It’s become quite popular, especially with more elderly customers.”

The road to improvement has been a challenging one for Anish and Hitesh but, by focusing on their customers’ needs and communicating the changes to their business, the father and son team have created a store their community can be proud of – and that might even pick a few extra awards in the future.

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