Ketul Desai has big plans for his small store. He tells Alex Yau why making them a reality will mean thinking literally outside the box

With a thriving community of long-standing families and an increasing number of young professionals, a new store in Tufnell Park, London, offers exciting opportunities to multi-site retailer Ketul Desai. 

Building a business focused on growth categories such as food to go is a challenge when you only have 650sq ft available – space that is already packed with staple convenience products such as confectionery, alcohol, snacks and newspapers. So, Ketul’s plan is to build beneath and outside his store.

“I see food to go as an area which will help boost my weekly sales. I’ll be refitting part of the basement to make way for a kitchen where I can produce fresh sandwiches, pizzas, milkshakes and pastries on-site.”

Ketul will also offer a home delivery service in partnership with third-party provider Uber Eats from September. Those living within a two-mile radius of Ketul’s store provide him with the ideal customer base for the service and he predicts his weekly turnover will be increased from £13,000 to £15,000 as a result. 

“My store already provides many products which cater for residents who have grown up in the area,” Ketul says. “However, there’s a growing number of young professionals who already live busy lives. 

“These customers don’t have the time to do a huge shop each week and they want the convenience of picking up their evening meals when it suits them. It’ll be advertised through social media and with merchandising within the shop. I’m still considering how the service will be branded, but the average margins will be between 20% and 25% when you take into account my overheads and what I’m paying Uber Eats. We’ll be doing a £3 meal deal and sandwiches for £2.”

The addition of a home delivery service isn’t the only way Ketul is ensuring his store is fit for the changing tastes of his customers, however. Previously known as Central Newsagent, the 45-year-old shop received a £90,000 refit last month and rebranded as The General Store

Alongside new light fittings, shelves and flooring, major additions as part of the refurbishment included a post office service, while a supply agreement with Nisa has provided a range of own-brand products from both Co-op and the symbol group. 

Ketul says: “Customers have made positive comments about how good the store looks now and on the post office. The nearest post offices are a 15-to-20-minute walk away, but now we’re getting additional footfall because residents can get postal services right on their doorsteps. Plus, the Co-op own-brand also provides a range of products which customers already associate with high quality.”

I’ll be refitting part of the basement to make way for a kitchen where I can produce fresh sandwiches, pizzas, milkshakes and pastries on-site

Other additions include a craft alcohol range and premium wines priced between £30 and £40. Ketul has also moved his tobacco underneath the till and replaced his gantry with vaping products. 

“Tobacco is in decline and it makes sense to give more visibility to products such as e-cigarettes and vaping units,” Ketul says. “Customers will still ask for tobacco anyway, regardless of whether they see a tobacco gantry or not. 

“Tufnell Park has affluent residents in some areas and I can see demand for some of the more premium alcohol products.”

The new additions have allowed Ketul, who left his job as a banker four years ago to manage the store with his father, to ensure the store will remain relevant in the community for years to come. 

“I grew up in the area and used to deliver papers as a teenager,” Ketul says. “I’ve grown to know many customers on a first-name basis, one of whom is Jeremy Corbyn, who has been a regular in the shop for 30 years. We used to be a traditional newsagents and the community is at the heart of what we do. But the area has changed throughout the years and we’ve had to change our offering to meet these needs.” 

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