‘I don’t want to be another corner shop’

At first glance, Hitesh Modi might appear to have the unenviable task of competing with another Londis two doors down on the same residential parade in Chesham. However, the store is managed by his father-in-law, Chandra Savjani, and the pair have managed to keep the two businesses separate while helping each other at the same time.

“Since I refitted my store to Londis last summer, we decided to ensure certain parts of our businesses don’t compete with each other. For example, I have newspapers and magazines alongside cold milkshakes, while the other store has hot food to go. It’s a good way of directing customers from one to the other and ensuring we don’t tread on each other’s toes.”

As part of the refit and transition from Costcutter to Londis, Hitesh has been given Londis’ premium black fascia and the inside of the store has been altered to reflect this identity.

"Although the Co-op own-label range is really good, I wanted to stand out against nearby stores" – Hitesh Modi

“I have a cigarette gantry under the counter and added an alcohol display with craft beer and premium spirits. I’ve also added a vaping unit, while the right side of the shop now has its own standalone alcohol area.”

Hitesh’s decision to make the switch was prompted by the supply issues following Palmer & Harvey’s collapse, alongside nearby Costcutter and Nisa stores competing against him. “The competing stores and the Co-op range as part of the supply deal with Nisa also meant there would have been no brand differentiation,” Hitesh says. “Although the Co-op own-label range is good, I wanted to stand out. The shopfitting was done by Link Shopfitting and I was impressed.”

The decision has helped Hitesh’s 900sq ft store increase weekly turnover by 15%. “I’ve also added new things like a milkshake machine and I’m looking to expand this further. I don’t want to be another  corner shop.”

What Londis Chesham does well 

Londis Chesham magazines

Although Hitesh is focusing on the latest craft alcohol and vaping trends, he also has the advantage of being the only shop on the parade selling newspapers and magazines. The papers are placed at the back of the store, so customers notice other products first. He complements this by providing a valuable home news delivery service (HND) to local residents, particularly the vulnerable and elderly who can’t make it to his store.

“I’m now open earlier in the morning as well, which makes a big difference to my newspaper and magazine sales. Customers want these products earlier in the mornings and I’m finding they purchase other items alongside them as well, so the basket spend is also quite high. 

“I also have quite a wide-reaching HND route in the area and this is helping me differentiate further. It’s all about providing the valuable service to the community as an independent retailer.”

Where my biggest profits come from

Hitesh has seen plenty of demand for his alcohol section, alongside crisps and snacks. In addition, a recently installed F’Real milkshake machine has proved popular among children and adults alike. 

Being the only retailer locally to have the machine also provides him with a valuable point of difference against other convenience stores nearby. “My rep told me there was no other convenience store within a few miles which has the product,” he reveals.

“It’s quite a popular product in the winter and I’m expecting plenty of demand in the summer, of course. The shop is in a residential area, so there are lots of families with children nearby. Adults also see it as the occasional treat as well and I sell different flavours in different size options. It’s a new product that I had never tried before, but I had heard it was popular in other stores and wanted to try it out.”

The changes and their impact

Londis Chesham wine selection

As a result of the shopfitting, Hitesh’s alcohol section stands out more as it has been placed in its own area at the right side of the shop. 

A lowered ceiling with lighting and different wood flooring creates the appearance the area is its own alcohol shop, and Hitesh has both chillers along the side and crates of beer in the middle to help grab the attention of customers.

”My refurbishment was done in partnership with Link Shopfitting, who did a really good job. 

“The beers are merchandised right near snacks such as crisps and confectionery,” Hitesh says. “It encourages customers to increase their basket spend and spend more in the shop. The two categories complement each other really well.

“I can also use the spend from both shops to qualify for rebates Londis offers and, as a result, it’s much easier to hit the minimum requirements.”

What Londis Chesham is doing next

Hitesh is not content with the success he’s seen with the introduction of craft alcohol and milkshake machines, and is working with Booker to look at how he can expand his range further.

“I’ve already got deals with local breweries and stock products such as Chilton and Mad Squirrel beers. There are also lots of gins now. We’re trying to be different from the other stores,” Hitesh says.

Part of this involves speaking to customers and ordering them products which are not already stocked by Hitesh. “If somebody wants a special bottle of wine, I’ll see if I can get it in. It’s about having that relationship and creating that loyalty.

“If there are new products, we will try them. The refit with Londis is working and we’ll work further with them to see how we can increase that basket spend. We’ve already spent quite a lot on the refurb and will be taking gradual steps now.”

The challenges I face

The switch to Londis wasn’t without challenges for Hitesh as he had to change the layout of the store to qualify for the premium black fascia. 

He says: “Londis normally doesn’t give the black fascia easily and we had to come up with a good reason for why we wanted it.

“Their ethos was they didn’t want children in an off licence. We ended up separating the kids section from the off licence and now we have a whole American sweets section at the side of the shop. We get these products from suppliers like Bobby’s Foods. It’s good because we had a slushy machine previously which didn’t work that well, and this has helped us as a replacement.

“We also switch products in the section to match seasonal demand and everything has been consolidated now. We didn’t need as much shelf space dedicated to certain categories such as greetings cards or magazines.”

How I stay competitive

Londis Chesham exterior

Hitesh and his family have the advantage of being the only convenience store owners on the parade and they have several measures in place to stop them taking customers away from each other.

“My father-in-law also runs the post office on the same street. They sell hot food to go and groceries, which we stay away from. Overall, it’s the same business, but we have different accounts and we do things differently.

“Everything is done independently of each other and we even get deliveries separately. It’s unique because you usually have everything in one retail shop.” Hitesh also owns the shop next to his own, which he has closed since the refit. “The old shop also used to be a Costcutter, which mainly sold beers, wines and spirits. I won’t turn it into another convenience store. I’m thinking of letting it out to a restaurant owner,” he says.

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