Facing competition from around 20 independent stores, three Tesco Expresses, a Sainsbury’s Local and an Aldi supermarket, Meten Lakhani has turned what was a 150sq ft Post Office into a 2,800sq ft flagship Premier store now boasting sales of £60,000 most weeks.
The store is located in Southampton town centre, with a residential area, university halls which house 1,000 students, offices and a hotel all nearby. It was purchased by his parents 36 years ago when it was a Post Office. Since then, the family has extended it four times to expand into convenience – closing down the Post Office and turning it into the successful store it is today.
Although the shop has been a part of him for as long as he can remember, Meten took it over full-time 16 years ago, after qualifying as an accountant. Five years ago, he joined Premier and last year saw it through a six-month refit costing £200,000 – resulting in sales increasing from £35,000 to around £60,000.
“Mum says ‘you should be behind a desk’ but I spend seven or eight hours a day behind the counter. I like to speak to customers, it’s in my blood,” he says.
Offering choice is a big focus for Meten and the refit provided the space to do it. “The main change is the layout. All the products are spaced out now and there’s ample room for customers to walk in, as well as designated ‘zones’, including a sweets area for kids,” he says.
The refit also meant he could install 14 metres of freezers and now offers 24 varieties of pizza, earning him around £200 in sales weekly.
“Tesco and Sainsbury’s don’t have the same sort of choice. We cater for people who want economy or branded – we give them a choice on price,” said Meten.
The father-of-two had initially planned to recoup the cost of the refit over a three-year period, but actually managed to achieve it in 12 months. “It turned out better than we expected and I hope it continues,” he says.
Product location, signposting and promotions are vital for his store, Meten says. Milk is always available for 85p – and is never kept near the front of the store – Kingsmill bread is always £1 and sugar is always 59p. He makes sure the essentials are competitively priced, uses clearly-identifiable promotion racks and makes sure shoppers can always see promotions wherever they are in store.
It is because of this emphasis on promotions that Meten chose Premier, enabling him to offer products such as two litre bottles of Pepsi at £1 all year round. “At the end of the month we’ll stock up on the best promotions from Booker. We’re able to carry on selling the items at the discount price right up until it comes on promotion again,” Meten says. He also received a great deal of support from Booker through the refit and the wholesaler has continued to help him grow his business through promotions and advice. “The overall package is the best, especially for someone who is just starting out.”
At the back of the store customers will find a free ATM. Meten says he’s had it for 12 years and, although it originally charged a small fee for transactions, over the years he’s managed to negotiate a better deal so he can wipe the fee off. Despite not making much profit from it, he says it’s been a good decision because it drives footfall. “It brings customers in – six or seven out of 10 will buy something on the way out,” he says.
Service and a presentable store are integral to the store’s success. Meten makes sure his shop is always clean and tidy and the service is friendly.
“Service is the biggest thing, without that you haven’t got a chance anywhere. Customers know they are still coming in to a local shop, just as they did when it opened 36 years ago.”