Every year, the RN team visits stores up and down the UK to learn about working life in independent businesses. In the first of our new blog series on our visits, designer Emma Langschied joins Rajendra Patel at the crack of dawn to hear about his three decades in retail.
Thud. Thump. The newspapers hit the counter for another Monday morning’s HND. As Rajendra Patel sorts through a pile of The Times, he shares stories with me from his 26 years of owning a convenience store in Loughton, Essex.
Shared with his wife Nina, and younger brother Jay, Raj is fast approaching the end of an era as the family prepares to retire and sell their store to a Nisa retailer next week.
I enjoy chatting to older ladies the most, because a lot of them live on their own and need a good conversation in their day
The brothers reminisce and talk about how they are going to miss “their friends – the community” more than anything.
Situated in the heart of a mixed community, they know almost everyone who walks into their store by name – as well as generations of their families. “Our store is next to a college and several schools,” says Raj. “There are always builders in the area, and commuters, because we’re near an underground station, but our main customer base is the elderly.”
“I enjoy chatting to older ladies the most, because a lot of them live on their own and need a good conversation in their day,” says Jay. “When their grown-up kids tell us it’s made their mother’s day, it makes our time here feel worthwhile.”
Raj’s main footfall-driver is the National Lottery. “Everybody loves the lottery around here,” he says. “Elderly people buy so many tickets and scratchcards. They always say they want to win money for their grandkids.”
“I didn’t know anything about what makes a shop tick when I started out,” says Raj. “If I could tell new retailers one thing that will help, it would be: listen.
“Listen to your customers and what they want. Keep calm too. Sometimes they’ll be in a bad mood from home or work and that’s okay. Keep calm and you can learn from them too.”