Jimmy Singh made the leap from driving buses to driving store profits more than 15 years ago and hasn’t looked back.
“I wanted to start something of my own that I could develop,” he says.
The retailer started off with a 99p discount store and learnt some of the key skills he uses in convenience today. “It taught me a lot about retailing, especially around running the store efficiently to maximise margins in a high volume and low sales value environment,” he says.
The leap to convenience came during the recession, when he switched to a Spar store in Oxfordshire, going from weekly sales of £6k to £20-£30k and showing the potential of the market.
An illness meant he had to take two years out of the store, but not out of the sector. “The whole time I was researching, looking at sites and learning more about the market.
“When I bought this store, I was really happy to be back behind the counter. It’s where I love to be,” he says.
In six months Jimmy boosted the store’s sales by 40%. “The first big driver was focusing on availability, which was a challenge as my takeover of the store coincided with the fall of Palmer and Harvey,” he says.
“Once the Co-op deal starts, we will have had four wholesale partners in under a year – Palmer and Harvey, Bestway, Nisa and Co-op. It has taught me the important thing isn’t the name on the depot or lorry, it’s the right product at the right price.
I love having a chat with customers, but listening is how you convert it into sales
“The other element to our sales increase is customer service. I think it helps that I love having a chat with customers, but listening is how you convert it into sales.
“When a customer leaves the store without a purchase, I ask them if there’s anything we can help with. Often, I can find the item they were looking for or make a suggestion that ends in a sale,” he adds.
The store benefits from a nearby train station, which Jimmy made the most of by changing his ranging. “We capitalised on this with an expanded soft drinks range, especially in energy drinks. The soft drinks tax has hit prices but it hasn’t changed customer habits in my store,” he explains.
He also invested in a coffee machine that he owns outright, meaning he can focus on it when commuter demand is stronger in winter, but switch back to soft drinks in the summer.
In a freezer towards the back of the store are more unusual products including pigs’ blood and offal.
“We’ve got a big Filipino community nearby and I’ve worked with Miah’s Oriental Foods to develop our range of Filipino products.” he explains.
“It performs very well even though it’s not an area I had any knowledge of before. Staying on top of sales data is key to success.”
Engage customers to reduce crime
Jimmy says: “Whenever a group comes in I make sure to engage them by saying hello and having a chat. It’s the best security measure you can install in-store.”
Invest in your stock room
Jimmy Says: “I’ve reduced the floor space in the store in order to improve our store room. I found that some areas were slow selling and we didn’t always have the space to maintain availability in those that were,”
Add a hot breakfast option
Jimmy says: “I’ve seen hot breakfast options work in other stores and I think it will really complement our existing on-the-go breakfast offering,”