Ken Singh has ploughed experience gained inside and beyond his family’s business to build a thriving set of c-stores, Alex Yau reports
When Ken Singh took a sales position at Currys PC World in the early-2000s, he didn’t expect the experience he gained selling computers, televisions and home appliances to drive the development of a successful family convenience store.
But the lessons he learned working for a major retailer, coupled with part-time work at his parents’ Love Lane Convenience Store in Pontefract as a teenager, fuelled a love for retail that he and his brother Bobby are ploughing into their businesses today.
Ken joined Currys PC World to gain his own independence and retail experience. Yet despite moving quickly up the ranks from sales assistant to manager, a desire to shape his own business eventually led him back to the family store.
“There was a point where I hit a wall because I couldn’t influence where the business was going,” Ken says. “I wanted to make a difference and returned to manage the family business because I could make a bigger impact there.”
The skills Ken gained from working at the electricals chain easily transferred into independent convenience.
“There are a lot of lessons you can learn from a major retailer. I use a rota system to keep everything organised, for example, and I treat staff to meals and nights out. They feel appreciated and staff turnover is low as a result. All my six employees have been with the business for several years.”
Ken’s experience outside of independent retail also helped shape a £70,000 refit on the 1,300sq ft store six years ago.
The refurbishment added air conditioning, new shelving, refrigeration and automatic double doors. Ken also moved scratchcards nearer to the till, and beers and wines from behind it to the front of the shop to make the store more welcoming and accessible.
“My time managing a Currys PC World taught me about the importance of customer experience,” says Ken. “The journey around your store matters and customers will keep coming back to you if they feel they can have a pleasant time there.
“My weekly sales went up by 30% after the refit, and scratchcard sales doubled. It is a much friendlier environment to shop in.”
Ken and Bobby’s experience also gave them the confidence to expand the family business – they now run three stores around Pontefract with their wives. But with so much competition, they say community links have been as vital as retail know-how for staying relevant to their customers.
“I’ve grown up in the community, and that’s the key. There are other convenience stores and a Post Office in the town centre 10 minutes away, but customers keep coming back to me.
The journey around your store matters and customers will keep coming back to you if they feel they can have a pleasant time there
“We know them on a first-name basis and we always chat to them with a smile. No one else offers this personal service. We’ll never be a store where customers do their big weekly shop, but customers know they’ll always be welcome if they just want to pop in and buy a pint of milk or a chocolate bar.”
Since Ken and Bobby took over the business, they have built on the work their parents began 31 years ago, but Ken attributes their success to his mother, Balbir, who single-handedly ran the store when their father, Jasbir, unexpectedly passed away in 1991.
Balbir had to learn every part of the business, from ordering from the cash and carry to accounting and negotiating with suppliers for the best prices.
“All the reps will tell you my mum is a tough lady because she always negotiates to get the best deal,” Ken says. “She never misses a trick and the many skills I’ve learned when running a store have come from my mum. This is a mindset I’ll continue to use, because running a convenience store isn’t easy and you’ve always got to think on your feet.”