Oxford is changing fast, but the arrival of a new retail centre has given one much-loved local business an opportunity to maintain the city’s identity in even its newest areas. Megan Humphrey reports
Amjad Hussain’s family have been serving Britain’s brightest and best for generations. The Tuck Shop – nestled among some of the oldest of Oxford University’s colleges – is a popular and much-relied-upon sweet shop, tobacconist and newsagent.
It also happens to be as different as is possible from Amjad’s new store: a brand-new unit at the entrance of Oxford’s £440m retail development, Westgate. The store has become the sixth in the Globe News empire that the Hussain family has gradually built over the past 25 years.
“We initially made the enquiry, and Westgate got back in touch with us pretty quickly,” Amjad says. “Being on the street at the front means we have access to shoppers, as well as a number of bus routes, colleges and local businesses – it’s great.”
Unlike the Tuck Shop, this store is a blank canvas and it is giving Amjad an opportunity to create a store that suits a modern, busy customer base.
“I decided to add a food to go offer – with homemade baguettes and cakes – as well as a coffee machine. Both of these have proved very popular and I truly believe this is the way forward. Being able to offer this is vital. Situated where we are, people tend to want to consume on the go.”
Planning and creating the rest of the store, however, has been a matter of looking at what works in the other Globe News businesses and consulting the decades of experience Amjad’s father has accumulated.
This has been particularly crucial in a difficult first seven weeks – when the heatwave and World Cup have meant many shoppers have swapped retail therapy for sunbathing, barbecues and watching England and their competitors play. But improvements are planned to increase the store’s appeal.
“We are having blinds installed at the front next week, to tidy the store up a bit. We will also be offering the National Lottery in the next three to four weeks, which will really help – PayPoint is already bringing us in some great sales,” he says.
And Amjad knows patience is needed when a business – and its surrounding development – is so new. “Sales aren’t where I want them to be yet, but we have only been open for seven weeks,” he says. “Once we have a full year behind us, it’ll be easier to assess how it’s going.”
I wanted people to have an idea of what we were about, so I decided to plaster the walls with a newspaper-themed wallpaper
One idea, taken from his 15 years’ experience, is introducing a tourist-friendly range of gifts. “I’ve installed an Oxford memorabilia section in the window of the shop so tourists can see it when they walk past,” Amjad says. “This is something unique to Westgate, and shoppers have just started to show interest – it’s really helping footfall. Building a customer base is what I’m focusing on right now, we need to let as many people as possible know we are here.”
Luckily, Amjad has discovered that operating within a complex such as Westgate has more benefits than he expected when it comes to marketing. “We are lucky Westgate takes care of all the store promotions through social media, so I’ve been doing a lot of leaflet-dropping alongside this.”
It is also giving him more time to develop the store’s identity – ensuring customers are aware of the Globe News brand and its long-standing connection to the town.
And Amjad has found and innovative and smart way to do this in-store.
“I wanted people to have an idea of what we were about, so I decided to plaster the walls with a newspaper-themed wallpaper. I didn’t want the walls to just be painted magnolia, I wanted people to know what we do,” he says.
So, while this new store hasn’t been at the beating heart of the town for generations, Amjad and his family are bringing a much-loved family business into one of Oxford’s newest areas and ensuring it is part of the city’s life for generations to come.
“I’m really proud of what my team and I have achieved,” he says.