In his search for a better work/life balance, Derbyshire retailer Jag Aytain took on the mission of his life – refitting his ultra modern village store. Here, he tells Charlie Faulkner why his DIY approach was right

Jag AytainHaving watched both his parents and grandparents work “all hours” for the family business – and being left disillusioned by the hierarchy and unsociable hours of life as a Hilton Hotel manager – Jag Aytain decided to change path and build a business that gave him a better work-life balance.

“I saw my grandfather dedicate his whole life to work, even after he retired. He passed away while trying to build the family a home in India,” says Jag. “I knew I had to do something different.”

In 2010, Jag bought a tired village shop in Linton, Derbyshire, which faced closure and – despite some local protest – went about creating a modern, progressive convenience store.

“It was tough, don’t get me wrong,” says Jag. “But you have to get on with it and do it with a smile – you’ve got no choice if you want your business to succeed.”

The Rural Hub and Post Office is the result. Operating under a combined Costcutter and Mace fascia, Jag made the bold decision to plan, initiate and complete an in-depth renovation independently. Having been initially quoted £120,000 for the work by Costcutter, his spacious store with its rustic shelving and newly-extended back area, has so far cost him just £15,000 to create.

Jag AytainThis experience convinced Jag that too many retailers make the mistake of letting symbol groups manage their refits – and miss out on the opportunity to tailor their store to their community exactly.

“It’s the same mentality a shopper paying for a bottle of water in a forecourt store has – they don’t mind paying that extra £1 for the convenience,” says Jag. “And retailers are happy to pay symbol groups to renovate their shops for them because it’s convenient.

“Because I’ve done this on my own I’m not dictated to. It’s taken time and a lot of research but I can say it is my store and I’m able to run it exactly how I want.”

Thanks in part to the nearby primary school and a bus stop used by secondary schoolchildren nearby as well as the “sweet tooth” the former mining community has always harboured, confectionery and crisps are the most popular categories for his store. This is reflected both in terms of merchandising – a large wall space opposite the till showcases his range – and in the size of his orders.

“On a weekly basis I spend up to £500 on sweets, £300 on crisps and £240 on traditional cakes,” he says.

Jag has tapped into the lunchtime trade, selling £1 sandwiches, which are very popular, as well as sausage rolls and hot dogs. “On the three days when we get a fresh delivery of sausage rolls we sell up to 18 a day.”

On the three days when we get a fresh delivery of sausage rolls we sell up to 18 a day

Jag’s knowledge of his local area helps him make decisions about pricing. Rather than implementing symbol-led promotions, he provides the local school teachers with a 10% discount, for example. “I know they will be good advocates of my store and you hear so many teachers say they don’t feel appreciated, so this is to help a little bit.”

This community focus is also shown by the work placement opportunities he offers teenagers – which is so successful there is now a waiting list. The local paper has also lauded Jag for his policy of not selling energy drinks to children under 12.

After years of hard work, Jag has now built a business that allows him (and his team) to work flexible hours. And though he has ambitious plans for the store – including a possible butchery counter – he has certainly achieved his main goal of living a more balanced life. 

“Define success,” he says. “Is it owning 50 shops and not being content until I’ve opened more, or is it operating a business without constraints that allows me to watch my children grow up? I know which one it is for me.”

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