Given just six months’ notice before his store was razed to the ground by Liverpool City Council, Ramsey Hasaballa had a decision to make – gamble his savings or walk away. He tells Alex Yau why taking the financial risk has paid off

For many of the retailers who complain of a lack of support for their business from local authorities, news that their community was to gain a substantial investment would be warmly welcomed. 

For Ramsey Hasaballa (pictured right) and his brother Ahmad, however, there was a problem. The block of apartments that Liverpool City Council wanted to tear down and rebuild included his 800sq ft store.

Located in Speke, on the city’s outskirts, the block had become a crime hot-spot and in April 2016 the council started work on a plan to curb anti-social behaviour by ripping it down and replacing it with new family-friendly apartments. 

“Crime was rife and they wanted to build new houses to attract young professionals and families,” says Ramsey. 

“Our old store had been on the site since 1995 and the conditions in the existing contract allowed them to tell us to leave with very short notice. We had six months.”

Although there was no opportunity for the brothers to keep their existing store, they were given first refusal on a new 2,100sq ft site being built as part of the council’s regeneration plans – importantly, though, the offer came with no financial support from the council. 

“It was a difficult decision and the lack of help from the council didn’t make it easier,” Ramsey says. Luckily, Ramsey and Ahmad felt able to make the leap, judging that his experience of more than two decades catering to the needs of local people would help him make a store two-and-a-half-times the size of his actually work. 

“More than 80% of my customers are families in the area and it’s where I’ve made my livelihood, so I had no alternative.”

The bank agreed and between it and their  savings, they felt able to make the leap when the building work was over last April. In August, the bank also helped fund a £185,000 refit which took six weeks and turned Speke Town Lane Convenience into Liverpool’s first and only Premier store. It was a bold move to introduce a brand with no previous presence in the city, but the major investment meant Ramsey had to go big.

“I didn’t want it to be like the Best-one or the Nisa we already have in the area. It had to make an impact. I did my research and we agreed Premier was the right way to go.

“It looked like the most modern option and Booker offered the most choice in terms of stock and promotions. Locals thought we were opening a Premier Inn at first.”

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The next challenge for the brothers was how to utilise a much bigger store. Individual floor space for confectionery, household goods and chilled grew from four metres to 12 metres. Fresh, food to go and an area just for children’s sweets have all been introduced. To cater to budget-conscious families, more than 90% of products are pricemarked, with £1 products particularly popular. They now aim to make his shop Speke’s main destination for groceries.

Ramsey might have been aggrieved to have his store forcibly taken from him but he is now convinced he was right to take the gamble on opening the larger store. Annual turnover is 125% higher, while average basket spend has grown from £4 to £6.95.

“Combined sales for confectionery, household goods and chilled drinks have doubled to £4,500 a week. We’re the only store in Liverpool to have self-serve slushy drinks from SnowShock, which alone generate more than £70 a week,” he says.

The community seems to be valuing the changes too – Ramsey’s store is the only local business to have removed the theft-reducing shield from its windows. 

“I remember a gang hanging outside when we opened,” he says. “Residents confronted them and told them to leave because they didn’t want the store ruined by anti-social behaviour. Their exact words to them were: ‘This is good, don’t you dare ruin this for us’.” 

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