Mital Morar’s Ancoats General Store has been recognised for widening the boundaries of what a convenience store can do. Max Liu speaks to the man himself 

“We didn’t follow any formulas. We used sterling board to create an industrial but warm effect and the result is a unique-looking store.”

Mital Morar is quite a fan of the word “unique”. Running Ancoats General Store in Manchester – recognised at last month’s IAA gala dinner for its innovation – this favoured word makes sense. 

Opened 18 months ago, the new 3,000sq ft store serves a “young, urban, independently-minded clientele” according to Mital. “They’re people who have their own way of looking at the world. We have created something that customers will feel loyalty towards, a sense of community. That’s what independent retailing is all about,” he says. 

The fashionable Northern Quarter area of Manchester is certainly the perfect place to try out this approach. Its demographic is one that yearns for something different from the conformity of the multiples: “Some of the big supermarkets do great things and they know how to sell. In the end, though, the chains are faceless corporations and they can’t compete with me when it comes to personality,” says Mital.

So what are the nuts and bolts of Mital’s business that help create this unique experience? “There’s a coffee shop in store which is run by trained baristas and is supplied by a local roaster. We serve draught beer which can be drunk in store or taken away in reusable growlers. We’re also about to introduce draught wine in reusable bottles. We have embraced the demand for vegetarian and vegan food. We’ve been bold and stocked a whole range of vegan, gluten free and healthy products – things like dairy-free cheese. Street food traders come into the store every Thursday to sell their goods. We’re having a monthly art event and a shop quiz – a new take on the pub quiz. The store is a community hub.”  

No wonder the IAA judges declared that Mital had “broken all the rules and redefined what convenience retailing means”.

If any readers are getting a sense of deja vu, this is Mital’s second innovative convenience store – he ran a short-lived convenience store-cum-restaurant in the same Manchester area earlier in the decade. But after leaving the retail trade, the opportunity to bring something fresh to the market proved irresistible. 

“I was born into retail – my parents were both in the business, but design has always been an interest of mine,” he says, “so I was able to bring that to the look of the new store.” 

Luckily, his vision has met the approval, not just of his customers, but also those who work with him. “I’m very lucky,” he explains. “The people I employ are really engaged with what the new store is about. They are collaborating with me, coming up with ideas and initiatives that can take this store forward. I trust them and want to give them the creative freedom to, for example, run their own promotions. The more you trust your staff, the more you get from them. If we were formal and corporate, staff wouldn’t take pride in working here.”  

In-store innovations, trend-friendly events and offering a whole host of “unique” experiences is all very well but businesses, in the end, have to make money. So how is Ancoats General Store performing? “We spent £100,000 to kit out the store before it opened and have put in a further £30,000 over the past 18 months,” says Mital. “I will keep putting money in. The store is in a permanent state of evolution. At the moment, we’re putting in a sterling board slat wall so we can hang products from hooks. We’ll also add more fridges. Growth was rapid for the first year and steadily increased by 50% in the past six months. 

And Mital is convinced he is on the right path for continued success. “I reckon there’s another 20% growth in this business and we have to keep investing and innovating to achieve that.”

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