At the heart of Seelan Thambirajah’s flourishing estate of c-stores is a focus on providing exactly what their communities want. It’s a formula serving him well in his latest store and that is set to drive further expansion, writes Alex Yau 

Since becoming an independent retailer 16 years ago, Seelan Thambirajah has created an estate of 16 successful convenience stores by catering to the needs of their local communities across the UK. It is this focus that has helped him generate a total yearly turnover of £13m, alongside an annual buying power of £5m.

Keen to build on this success, Seelan decided to take on a new challenge at the start of the year – to use this model to transform a rundown convenience store on a Bedford parade into a shop that would win the loyalty of residents left unimpressed by the previous ownership. 

The business was in a poor condition, having received little investment in the past 20 years, but the opportunity to run the only convenience store on an estate gave Seelan the confidence to buy it in March. 

“It was really run down. Most shelves were empty and customers hardly ever wanted to visit,” says Seelan. 

“Despite this, I saw an opportunity with the business. It has an immediate customer base and I felt I could really revive it using the experience I’d gained from running my other shops.”

Seelan spent six weeks in April refitting the store under the Premier fascia at a cost of £150,000. Among the major changes made were an overhaul to the shop front and the addition of modern floor fittings and brighter lighting. Chillers for fresh groceries, a craft alcohol display and a food-to-go area with a self-serve coffee machine were also added.  

“I chose to refit under the Premier fascia because Booker is investing a lot in fresh and chilled products,” says Seelan. “These are very popular categories and I found they were successful
in my other stores.

“There are a lot of families with children in the area, and one of their major concerns is health and wellbeing. The comments we’ve received from customers about our fresh groceries and cakes have been positive.”

Seelan has also been encouraged to engage with the community by Booker and the IAA’s Academy in Action assessment programme, which have given him tips including donating food to a nearby primary school, using social media to promote his store and gathering feedback from customers.

“Shoppers have told me how vital services such as PayPoint are to have on their doorsteps,” says Seelan. “I’ve also received comments about how good the value we offer is, while my local MP, Mohammad Yasin, commented on how helpful the store is to the community. 

“I’m also working with Booker to donate money to local charities. This involvement with the community has really helped change the store’s reputation.”

The turnaround in the store’s status has also led to an increase in its profits. Weekly sales have increased from £8,000 to £20,000. Seelan plans to drive this still further by adding freshly made sandwiches from his own company, The Early Birdy. 

“My range of fresh cakes and pastries are really popular and I want to expand on this with the sandwiches, each of which will be delivered to the store every morning. I’m already making £4,000 per week from The Early Birdy and, based on this success, I’m confident the products will be just as popular in the store.”

The store’s turnaround has sparked Seelan’s ambition to extend the number of stores he owns to 20 by 2020. “My focus on really delivering what the community wants has worked and I’m confident I can continue this success with the opening of more stores in the next few years.” 

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