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Kumar Patel transforms his Patson Local Bradford store into eastern European food hub. Priyanka Jethwa explores how
Not many retailers can say 95% of their food and drink relies on imports from eastern Europe, but Kumar Patel’s commitment to cater for his local community’s needs has turned his Patson Local into more than just a standard convenience store.
“I went to university to study business and, after I graduated, I ended up joining the family shop, which is now run by myself, my brother, Tinesh, and cousins, Viraj and Vicki.
“It was originally run by my father and uncle, who in the 1980s noticed that the appetite for English food in the area was declining, after more eastern Europeans settled,” he says.
“So, they went on a road trip to Slovakia to explore what food and drink people were buying, and ended up coming back with a van full of goods to sell here – this is when we didn’t know any suppliers, but now we have excellent relationships with loads of companies that export products to us.”
To accommodate for the growing variety of foods from all over Europe, the shop underwent two refits. Vacuum-packed meats and 30p energy drinks are by far the bestsellers.
Thirty-five per cent of sales come from fresh and dairy products, making it the store’s biggest category, followed by European grocery foods, soft drinks and then bread. He says despite other retailers reporting an increased interest in healthier foods, this hasn’t been the case for him.
Now the store has a large deli counter spanning one wall, alongside a money transfer service on the first floor, with the main convenience shop selling grocery and other items on the ground floor.
The deli offers a wide selection of food to go and popular eastern European sliced meats, such as ham and salami, as well as fresh sandwiches that are made in store.
Opposite this is a Western Union desk, a bus and airline ticket service where shoppers can plan transfers to Europe, and a paper printing service.
Kumar says he decided to introduce a travel agency because, at the time, there weren’t any travel agents operating flights from Bradford, so he wanted to gain a monopoly on that particular service and fill the gap before anyone else did.
“The bus and flight company are an external business, and buses go from Bradford to London and pick up passengers on the way to go to places like Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic. One bus ticket costs around £60-£70 to get to Europe,” he explains.
However, despite having become the beacon for speciality foods in the area, investing in a store model that heavily relies on imports does have its drawbacks, especially in the face of Brexit.
“With the uncertainty around Brexit, prices are constantly fluctuating and it’s a major concern because we have accommodated our entire business to this unique selling point. We have two deliveries from Poland a week; one from Slovakia; and one from the Czech Republic.
“We used to also offer services such as movies, videos and mobile phones, but eventually had to cut that out to focus on being a speciality store,” he explains.
This idea of becoming a one-stop shop wasn’t planned from the beginning, but to keep up with the community’s needs, it was essential. Especially as more competition in the area took over and started to also offer eastern European lines.
“Our shoppers come in for a bit of everything, so this has to be reflected in our range when it comes to balancing value with premium options. Once a year, we travel to Europe and meet with the suppliers we work with to learn about the latest food and drink trends there. We then assess our store to ensure we are keeping up with them,” he adds.