Through trial and error and a focus on great customer service, Sudesh Patel has grown a south London c-store built on strong relationships, local business partnerships and savvy stock management. Toby Hill reports


Sudesh Patel’s first stab at convenience retail came to abrupt end in 1992, when a fire consumed his store and his insurance company refused to cover the cost. 

For the subsequent two decades, he worked for an array of retail-related companies, including a 15-year stint at Europa Foods. But he always wanted to return to running his own business, and eventually, in 2015, took over a 1,350sq ft Londis in Coulsdon, south London.

“I should have done it long ago,” he says. “In previous jobs I had to answer to other people, but this way I get to make the decisions.”

With a breadth of retail experience to draw on, Sudesh set to work perfecting his new store. At the root of everything, he says, are the basics: availability, service and cleanliness.

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“My store is always clean, tidy and full,” he says. “Just this morning a customer came to use the cash machine and told me, ‘Your shop looks so inviting!’”

Sudesh keeps his store immaculate via a detailed rota, dividing cleaning tasks between his staff. Every few months, he holds refresher meetings, reminding them of the importance of good and friendly service.

“Negative word of mouth is the biggest killer of businesses,” he says.

With the basics established, Sudesh has focused on tailoring his store to the local area. But there was no quick-and-easy way to achieve this.

“The first year was a learning curve and there were things that didn’t work,” he says. “But we were able to build on our mistakes.”

He gives the example of seasonal events such as Mother’s Day.

“In our first year, we did a display with bouquets of flowers sourced from Booker,” he says. “But we didn’t get the mix right and sales were poor.”

So, this year, Sudesh met a local florist to ask his advice on what to sell, with highly profitable results.

“He made up Mother’s Day bouquets. They made the display look great and we sold 40 of them at £30 each,” he says.

Similarly, in his first two years he stocked up on packets of pancake mix for Pancake Day, but sold only six or seven each time. Talking to customers, however, he knew the demand was still there to make it work. So, this year, he went large.

“We made a massive Pancake Day display and promoted it heavily on Facebook. This time, we sold 50 cases.”

Beyond seasonal events, the core of Sudesh’s turnover comes from crisps, confectionery, snacks and soft drinks, carefully managed to ensure maximum sales from the available space.

They made the Mother’s Day bouquets display look great. We sold 40 of them at £30 each

“Every few months I’ll look at my sales in key categories line by line. If I’m not ordering a case a week of something, I’ll consider whether it’s worth keeping.”

Recently, he discontinued several lines of 89p grab bags of crisps and replaced them with £1 pricemarked bags. “It’s a made a big difference to my sales, especially of Doritos and Walkers,” says Sudesh.

Getting promotions right is vital, too. Year-round, he runs a multibuy deal on real ales and ciders. “Customers know they can walk in at any time and get three different ales for £5,” he says.

Finally, Sudesh highlights the importance of getting involved with the community. This isn’t something that happens overnight, but having been in the area for three years, Sudesh has established several partnerships. Each year, he buys books for a local school. He also advertises in the programme of the Chipstead Village Fair & Flower Show. Next, he plans to install a canopy outside the store and run coffee mornings for local residents.

Through these incremental improvements, Sudesh has seen his store go from strength to strength. Alcohol sales alone are up 12% year on year. Decades of retail experience are paying off, and Sudesh’s number one lesson is, he says, is: take your time. 

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