Alkesh Pankhania isn’t one for standing still.
When asked what his plans are for his Best-one convenience store in Sunbury-on-Thames, he talks about a raft of ideas he and his wife Krishna have – both big and small – that will help make the store even more successful.
“I’m always doing little pieces here and there to try and move the business forward and attract more customers,” he says. It’s these “little pieces” that have helped Alkesh take the shop’s turnover from £3,500 a week when he bought it 12 years ago to £15,000 a week, excluding services, today.
Alkesh Pankhania, Best-one
Location: Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey
Hours: 6.30am-10pm Mon to Thur, 6.30am-10.30pm Fri to Sat, 7.30am-10pm Sun
Staff: Two full-time and three part-time
Size: 800sq ft
Trading started: September 2002
Style: A c-store in a parade of shops, which includes an off-licence, on a busy road. The store is in a residential area, with a factory nearby and plenty of passing trade.
The biggest thing on Alkesh’s to-do list is a complete refurbishment of the store. He plans to open the shop up more by knocking down a wall, improving the layout of the aisles, make it more eco-friendly, and create specific sections for categories like alcohol. “We’re going special flooring for the wine section, so it’s a shop within a shop,” he says.
Food to go is a huge part of the shop’s business and something Alkesh plans to expand. “I introduced a microwave to the shop floor in the middle of last year and sales have been brilliant,” he says. “I’m selling more samosas and I now need around two and a half cases of each of the Rustlers burgers flavours a week.”
With the refit, the Pankhanias will introduce a “closed kitchen” where customers can order and pre-order sandwiches. “Food to go is a big thing for me,” he adds. “Knowing my competition and looking at what they do – no one does as much food to go as I do.”
At the start of the year, Alkesh introduced locally-sourced pre-packed fresh fruit & veg, all price-marked at £1, which is going well, and at the beginning of this month he started doing Polish food to cater for the growing number of eastern European customers in the area. “We sold around £200 of it in the first week,” he said. “We got a neighbour to write out a note in Polish telling customers that we stock Poilsh products to promote it.
Quick & tasty: After identifying food to go as a growth area, Alkesh expanded his offering and last year introduced a microwave. Sales of Rustlers products have since tripled and his locally-made fresh samosas are a huge hit with customers.
Second glance: Alkesh uses secondary sites effectively throughout his store to give customers more than one chance to notice products. “Having secondary stands in the right locations works wonders,” he says.
Shout about it: When someone buys a product on promotion it flashes up on the till, so Alkesh’s staff tell them if they haven’t taken advantage of it. “We’re constantly upselling – it means the margin might be a little less but the cash is there,” he says.
Alkesh understands the importance of marketing to customers and is currently getting to grips with PowerPoint to create a series of slides for in-store promotions that he can show on a monitor in the shop. “We have promotional posters in the windows, so why not put a screen in the window instead with rotating offers that have more impact,” he says. He decided to implement the idea after being inspired by a fellow retailer who told him how easy it is to do. Bestway sells promotional screens, but the benefit of doing it himself, he says, is that he can tailor the slides to exactly what he wants and do it for a lesser cost.
Speaking to other independent retailers is something that Alkesh puts a lot of value in. He has a network of friends who he chats to regularly to get ideas from and give ideas to. “I’m happy to help any retailer who isn’t in direct competition with me,” he says. “And if I meet people at conferences or galas I always get advice from them. He also visits a lot of shops to see what they do and what their service is like – something he is passionate about. “Customer service and standards are very important. Give your undivided attention to every customer,” he adds. “If you can’t get that right you haven’t got a business.”