Using his 16 years of retail experience, Raj Bhatia has opened a premium quality independent store in the heart of London’s Battersea Power Station development and is aiming for it to be the best in town. He gave Joe Cooper a tour.
“We want this to be the best grocery store in London.”
It’s a bold statement from Raj Bhatia, but visit his new store in Battersea, south London, and you can’t help thinking he has every chance of achieving his ambition.
Battersea General Store, which opened a month ago, oozes quality – from the orchids for sale by the doors and the solid oak shelving and glazed tiles to the staff dressed in traditional hats and aprons.
“This is a quality store and quality has to run through the whole business – the fittings, service, food, hygiene through to the back-of-house operation,” says Raj.
“No expense has been spared. We’re bringing a classic British design back to grocery retailing.”
The store sits in the shadow of the iconic Battersea Power Station, which is undergoing a £9bn development after sitting dormant for more than 30 years.
The first few hundred new residents – an affluent global crowd – have been moving in over recent months.
Apartments in the development don’t come cheap and the 6,500sq ft store reflects that, with a huge range of luxury products such as cuban cigars, caviar and even a £2,000 bottle of Chateau Haut-Brion.
But Raj is keen to point out the store is designed to cater for everyone, from residents to office workers and site visitors. Crisps, chocolate and soft drinks are big footfall drivers and prices are similar to the multiples. With toiletries and stationery available too, Raj says he doesn’t want his business to become a purely speciality store.
This is a quality store and quality has to run through the whole business
Creating this competitive and standout offer has been central to his plans, given the intense competition in the capital.
“Everyone is your competition now,” Raj says. “Whether it’s home delivery from Ocado or the multiples’ convenience stores on every street corner.”
He wants city workers to avoid these options and wait until they come home to shop. To this end, a Battersea General Store app is also on the horizon, which will allow customers to have full shops delivered to their doors.
Raj has a long business history in the area. He opened his first coffee shop and deli in 2001, just over a mile away on Lambeth Pier, and had a café in Southwark Park before opening The Market Place grocery store around the corner in Chelsea Bridge Wharf.
While working at The Market Place, Raj got to know Rob Tincknell, the chief executive of the Battersea Power Station Development company, who suggested a similar offering would suit Battersea. After seeing the plans and hearing the company’s strategy for supporting local businesses, Raj was convinced opening his latest store would be a great next step.
“I’ve been in retail for 16 years and this store is the culmination of that. It represents all the experiences I have had, my travels and my journey through retail.”
In the new store, Raj is able to indulge in his passion – food and drink.
He selects every product personally, whether it is cheese and beer from suppliers around the corner, or cookies from New York and panettone from Italy. “I take time to make sure we’ve got the right quality products in every category,” he says, explaining his wider food to go offering takes up around 20% of the store.
Raj has also learned how to get staff motivated. He asks them to taste products so they have full knowledge of what they sell.
“If they have a true understanding, training time cuts down by about 75%,” he says. “It’s not just about working 20 hours a day yourself.”
As Raj finishes talking to RN, some customers from his Market Place store walk by to check out the new venture. They wave and congratulate him.
“This is it – I’m putting back the pride in grocery retailing,” he says.
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