Beer Bellies

Queens Avenue, Widnes WA8

400sq ft

Brothers-in-law Rick Sandhu and Manny Gill bought their business in a blind bid. Eight years on and it has finally become the store they always wanted

It would be an understatement to say that brothers-in-law Rick Sandhu and Manny Gill failed to buy the business of their dreams when they put down a blind bid on Beer Bellies in Widnes, 15 miles from the centre of Liverpool.

“I had never seen a shop completely screened off – customers couldn’t touch a thing,” says Rick of the store he had acquired. With a range of budget-priced spirits and tobacco, and this high level of security on show, the store they had bought reflected the area in which it was located. 

Needing to keep the business operating and never having run their own business before, Rick and Manny at first decided to keep the business going as it was set up.  

“For the first five years, we did well. But over the next three years, our sales started to drop,” Rick says. 

Indeed, the initially buoyant sales from Beer Bellies helped Rick and Manny acquire a grocery shop next to their parents’ own newsagents. 

Yet convenience is a fast-moving industry and a new arrival in the area underlined how much Rick and Manny needed to adapt to survive. 

“Our business and our parents’ store were both struggling to compete after a Spar opened nearby. On top of that, we were unable to cope with the time constraints involved in picking up every item that every customer wanted. We knew something had to change.”

The entire family talked with local cash and carry Parfetts Aintree and its Go Local retail development team. Along with local shopfitter Retail Outlet Design and property expert Barry Frost from Commercial Plus, they fleshed out a strategy for success for each store.

At its heart were the opportunities each business had from embracing convenience, to create a range that catered to local families. “There’s a local school, and a business complex – these customers buy more and are loyal.”

This meant it was going to be a risk for our whole family. We were putting everything on the line

The combined newsagents and grocery store would cater to shoppers needing everything from a meal for tonight to last-minute additions to their child’s lunchbox. Meanwhile, the off-licence would open up to the community, taking down its screens and offering family-friendly products. 

“This meant it was going to be a risk for our whole family. We were putting everything on the line.”

The new store reopened seven weeks ago and there’s one thing they are very happy to see the back of – the store’s protective screens. “Now everything is out in the open, people can pick up the products,” says Rick. “It has changed the whole shopping experience.”

As part of the move to focus on a younger demographic, a Dr Slush machine has been installed, which has proved an instant hit with the pupils at the primary school down the road. 

“Parents actually let their kids come into the store now because it’s so much more inviting – they queue out the door for a slush.” 

In a nod to this new customer base, the brothers have used social media – alongside in-store giveaways – to help bring shoppers in to see the new store.

Importantly, this switch towards convenience in their parent’s store has been good for business, too. The shop has seen a 40% boost in sales, with a 50% increase in sales of snacks and soft drinks. 

These great results have helped the brothers make the decision to employ a new – hopefully local – member of staff. “The first couple of weeks were really overwhelming,” says Rick. “But now sales are up, we can focus on ranging, merchandising and choosing the next step for this brand-new business.” 

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