In the heart of London’s east end, around the corner from a Buddhist centre and with London’s square mile a mere stone’s throw away, retailer Mehmet Guzel has an eclectic mix of customers to cater for.

The facts
  • Location: Bethnal Green, London
  • Month and year started trading: December 2012
  • No. of staff: Five full-time, seven part-time
  • Opening hours: 7am-10pm, seven days a week
  • Size: 1,700sq ft
  • Style: City neighbourhood store with a focus on organic, artisan produce and a young professional customer base

But with a product range that includes artisan bread, organic fruit and vegetables and a host of vegetarian and vegan foods, his Simply Fresh store in Bethnal Green is more than up to the challenge.

Mem bought the shop at the end of 2012 after more than a decade of working for his brother Kenan Guzel at the family-run convenience store, Can Supermarket. He knew he had a passion for retail and a good grasp of the trade, but always wanted his own business to try out some new ideas.

Initially intending to go it alone, he changed his mind after coming across Simply Fresh, deciding to take the symbol group route instead.

“The ideas at Simply Fresh were similar to my own, but joining the group gave me the advantage of having someone to support me through the process of setting up a new business,” he says.

Those ideas, which included sleek design, high-quality produce, and a health store-feel, have all been realised and the east London store is every bit the artisan outlet that Mehmet envisaged. Industrial ceramic lights hang from the ceiling in place of fluorescent strip lighting, organic products fill the wooden shelf units and bespoke linen ‘Mem says fresh’ shopping bags are for sale to eco-conscious customers.

“We’re not a health food store but we have moved in that direction. There’s a lot of vegetarian and vegan customers and I’ve been influenced by them,” says Mem.

Top tips
  1. Take time out: When you’re constantly involved in the day-to-day running of the store, you can lose sight of what else is happening, Mem says. Taking time out will give you new ideas and keep your mind open.
  2. Visit other stores: Visiting shops he admires like Whole Foods and other independents has given Mem inspiration to try new ideas in his own store.
  3. Get organised: Mem says being organised doesn’t come naturally to him but using a to-do list has stopped the endless tasks becoming overwhelming.

One of the most popular products is fresh sour dough bread. Priced at £3.50 a loaf it’s a far cry from a value offering, but Mem sells 35 loaves a day on weekdays, 90 loaves on Saturdays and 70 on Sundays.

Another unique idea that has made a huge impact on his customers is wine, available straight from the barrel. Customers spend £2.50 on a glass wine bottle and every refill is £5. The wines vary from week to week and come from vineyards in France, Portugal, Italy and Spain.

“A lot of the cost of wine comes from the cost of bottling it. We’ve taken that out which means we have high-quality wine at a very reasonable price,” says Mem.

The most recent success has been the introduction of a deli counter, which has added £1.5k a week to his turnover as well as increasing cross-category sales of products including crackers and wine.

There’s no doubting that the first two years of trading have been a resounding success. Turnover is at £40k per week and business is booming.

It hasn’t been without its challenges though and Mem says finding the right people to work on his team has been something he’s had to work on.

“It’s quite easy to find temporary staff but as soon as you’ve trained them, they leave for something else and I need people I can rely on,” he says.

The current team seems to have risen to the challenge and Mem says he might even consider taking a little time out to relax. Although, with plans on the horizon for a second Simply Fresh store, it doesn’t look very likely.

“I love making people happy and enjoy providing them with things that are useful and that they need. Watching the takings going up is pretty good too,” he says.

Retail Newsagent’s production editor Darren Rackham spent a day working in Mehmet’s shop. Here’s what Mehmet told Darren about getting fresh food right.