After his career in construction was thwarted by the worldwide economic downturn, and with three years’ work in the US under his belt, Nishi Patel decided to return to the UK to take over his father’s business.
That was 12 years ago, and he hasn’t looked back since. “My father, Kieran, came to the UK from Uganda when he was aged 15. He studied for a pharmaceuticals degree and eventually opened his first store in Thamesmead in 1974,” says Nishi. “He has retired now, but he was in the business for more than 35 years. I grew up in this environment so it really is in my blood.”
The family owns two stores, but the one Nishi spends most of his time at is the Londis store in Bexley Park, south east London.
“Things have changed a bit since dad opened his first store. We are in a fairly big premises now – around 1,200sq ft. We get a real mixture of people coming in – it’s what we love about our area; there’s a council estate nearby and also a more affluent area around the corner. There’s also a school behind us and a gym next door, so people from all walks of life visit us here,” he says.
With such a diverse range of customers, Nishi says he’s been perfectly placed to see consumer trends change and he’s made sure the businesses adapted with them.
“We have had six major refits over the years. The latest cost around £25,000 for some new freezers and new signage. One of the biggest areas for us now is food to go. It doesn’t compare to five years ago, and it’s this area of the business we’re looking to grow.
“Sandwich sales have grown by 15% to 20% in that time. We are planning to bring more lines in and have just recently had a fridge unit for food to go installed.
“Our magazine sales were following the national trend and dying off, so it made sense for us to cut these shelves back from four metres to two metres to make way for a new cold unit.”
It’s not just chilled foods that are selling well, though. “We have also had hotplates installed so we can serve hot food, sales of which have quadrupled,” says Nishi. “We now do more than £10,000 a month just in hot food.”
Ever the entrepreneur, Nishi has plenty of ideas about how he can maximise revenue in this area of the business. “I always visit other stores to pick up new ideas for ours, and I was recently at a retailer summit where retailers come together to share ideas about how to grow their businesses. These events are really valuable to store owners like me.
“We want to expand to serve more popular hot food items beyond our current offering – particularly pizza – and we are also working on a coffee and croissant deal to catch commuters on their way to work. If we had the space here we would undoubtedly open a café,” he adds.
With two stores under their ownership, could this be the beginning of a larger family empire? “If the right location came up we would definitely think about expanding,” Nishi says.
“For us, that definitely means having on-site parking. It’s a massive bonus for customers and we have found people are willing to drive slightly further to come to us than go to a closer store that doesn’t have parking.
“We’re very fortunate where we are at the moment as we are just off the motorway and don’t have much in the way of competition nearby, so it’s a hard location to beat.”
Although there are no immediate plans to expand, Nishi has enough to keep him busy at the moment.
“We will be installing a third till soon and moving the cigarette gantry under the counter as it is taking up display space where it is at the moment. Business is going really well, every day is different, and our master plan is to keep offering the best we can offer.”
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