Despite huge changes to his personal and local circumstances, Nimesh Patel’s store has remained at the heart of the community for almost three decades. In 2005, the store underwent a refit and an extension, which coincided with his decision to join Best-one.

Location: Preston, Lancashire

Hours: 6am-9pm Monday-Saturday, 6am-1.30pm and 6-9pm Sunday

Staff: Four family members; Nimesh is looking to recruit in early 2017

Size: 1,500sq ft

Trading since: 1987; the store became a Best-one in 2005

Style: Located in a residential area of the city, surrounded by student accommodation. The large premises doubles up as the family home

“We always shopped at Batleys, so it seemed like the right fit,” Nimesh says. Best-one’s promotions are particularly appealing to the local student demographic.

“As the university developed more residences, they drifted over into the houses surrounding us,” he says. “We’ve got eight students living in one house right next door.”

Clever merchandising has seen the current deals on Pot Noodles, Super Noodles and Red Bull multipacks – staples of the student diet – fly off the shelves. However, catering to a majority student population also has its pitfalls.

“Most of the surrounding houses are student rental properties, and we never know what the landlords are going to do,” Nimesh says. “A lot of them stay empty for a long time.”
The ever-changing population has also caused staffing difficulties.

“When good employees leave the area, it can be hard to find trustworthy replacements. We’re cautious because we’ve had a number of staff thefts, so over the past two years it’s just been the four of us.”

The difficulties haven’t stopped there; being in a student town has challenged efforts to tailor the store to the locals’ needs. “I like to take what shoppers want on board,” says Nimesh. “But I could get something in and weeks later they’ve moved away.”

Fortunately, the long-term locals know Nimesh’s family well, and a factory at the end of the street drives lunchtime trade. “I believe in letting customers have a choice about where they spend their money,” he says. “Seeing them come here is what drives me – it means we’re providing a great service.”

That service has cemented the store’s role in the community. In 29 years of trading, the store has stayed open on Christmas Day. This year it will close for the first time, as the family spends Christmas with Nimesh’s aunt and father, both of whom were diagnosed with cancer in the past two years.

“I’ve spent a lot of time caring for the family,” he says. “I thought about closing up shop, but I didn’t want to let it get me to that point.” Instead, Nimesh used the store to raise funds, and on September 30 he held a Macmillan coffee morning.

“Most of us will be affected by cancer,” he says. “The coffee morning gave us the opportunity to talk to our customers about their personal experiences, and we all realised how much we’ve got in common.”

Nimesh adds that simply asking after shoppers can establish loyalty. “Small shops are the heart of the community,” he says. “If you can’t look after your customers, how are they meant to look after you?”