NEW main picture store advice retail heroes

The pages of RN are covered with insight and advice from leading independent retailers from across the UK who have forged successful businesses in their communities. They would all admit they still have something to learn and people from whom to learn it. They say no man is an island. It is often through the support of others that we succeed, and that assistance can come in a variety of ways when it comes to building a successful retailer.

For some of the retailers we’ve spoken to, that support came in the form of advice and insights that helped shape the business they created, or improved it when it needed a boost. Dipak Shah, from H & R News in Camberley, Surrey, has received support from friends and family, but also from his local community and his suppliers. Others have found inspiration from fellow retailers. By travelling around, meeting other people and looking at their stores, they have uncovered ideas that they wouldn’t have considered if they hadn’t connected with others. For many, the heroes of their businesses are their families, wether it’s the parent who ran the store before them or the partners and children who share the load and generate further innovation.

“I get so much advice and support from fellow retailers that we meet at seminars and conferences,” says Jey Sivapalan of 1 Stop Go Local in Derby. Sometimes these inspirations and family ties can lead to further routes outside your store and into the community. Amrit Singh and his brother joined Nisa Local High Heath in Walsall, enabling his dad, Harjit, to launch a community hub that has been a lifeline for many during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pushing us to do more

Amrit Singh’s father is his retail hero, from whom he has taken over the running of Nisa Local High Heath, Walsall. Singh spent his gap year helping at the store as his father continued to evolve and grow the business, before coming home to work full-time there.

“He’s always pushing us to do more and more,” he says. “He’s always driving us. He’s always said: ‘if you try to be the best at what you do, everything else will fall into place’. And you can’t go wrong with that. To be successful in our industry, you’ve got to be a people person.”

Even now he’s semi-retired Singh’s father continues to involve himself in the community, although he’s “not going to the cash and carry”. He runs a charity hub that has delivered facemasks to families, food to the vulnerable, PPE to care homes and schools. “We’ve been doing loads, but it’s all driven by his desire to help the community.”

Know your target market

Family support has also had an enormous impact on the business for Jey Sivapalan, from 1 Stop Go Local in Derby. His two brothers, Anand and Kris, both run convenience stores of their own and have been providing him with help and support since he started his business.

“They’ve been retailing long before me,” says Sivapalan. “They gave me so much help and support when I was starting out and continue to do so, even now, giving me guidance on what to stock.”

His brothers were instrumental in helping him find the right location for his shop, focusing on finding the right target market rather than on the shop itself. “Before you buy a store, you have to know the target market, what they want, and what the competitors around you are offering,” he says. “Then you can find out what kind of different offer you can bring to customers.”

Implement your ideas

In October 2020, AJ Singh’s Premier Morley in Leeds underwent a major refit that transformed the business and its offering. A new cocktail bar sells 1,000 cocktails every weekend, a dessert bar pulls in £1,000 a week, while delivery services have “gone through the roof”. Singh says he has Martyn Parkinson from Booker to thank for the transformation of the store and its offer.

“It’s nuts what we’re doing at the moment and it’s down to him helping us changing our mindset about what we could achieve,” says Singh. “Don’t be scared of venturing out into different things. Add some theatricality to your store.”

Inspired by Parkinson, Singh has trialed numerous ideas that have put his store on the map and increased basket spend in store and on his delivery platforms. “We’re even having another refit soon to bring in more chillers.”

Visit other stores for inspiration

As a retail veteran of more than 30 years, Spar Parkfoot’s David Charman is more used to people asking him for advice than vice versa. He reckons the most important thing a retailer can do is to simply see what others are doing.

“You can’t possibly go through a career in retail without learning something from every single store you go into,” he says. “I’ve been in different countries and seen things like an orange juice machine and thought, ‘That could work very well for us’.” The biggest piece of inspiration Charman has ever received came from a tour of Ireland courtesy of Spar, where he saw in-store butcheries and resolved to give one a go, to resultant success.

This year, as always, he will look at what retailers are doing and learn from them. “The biggest challenge in the next year is the display for unhealthy products,” he says.

Make sure customer service is 100%

When Dipak Shah bought his business in Camberley, Surrey, the introductions were made by his friend, recommending him to the previous owner and highlighting the opportunities to him as well. “They knew the people who owned it and they had a similar business themselves,” Shah recalls. “They knew this was the right business for us and they helped us get the business. The person who owned it gave us great training and financial support.”

That help and insight helped to make Shah the retailer he is today, supported by his wife and children, his paper boys and drivers, his suppliers at Smiths News and his local community. “Our main business is newspapers and getting involved in the community, so Smiths News has played a pretty important part for us, providing lots of incentives. Their service has been excellent since we’ve been here.”

Five best pieces of advice

1 DIPAK SHAH “Always make sure that customer service is 100%. Keep up with what’s happening in the market and provide the best service.”

2 DAVID CHARMAN “Going into other stores and seeing what people have done and done well is the single biggest investment that anybody can make in their business, because there are always things to be cribbed, copied and improved upon.”

3 AJ SINGH “I love trying different stuff and quirky stuff, especially if it’s good for the environment. Don’t be afraid to add a bit of theatre or to have a premium product and shout about it.”

4 JEY SIVAPALAN “Before you buy a store, check the target market, what the parking availability is and the local scene. That way, you will know what to offer your customers.”

5 AMRIT SINGH: “The best thing about this industry is the people. Engage with them and become a part of the community.”

This piece appeared in the 12 March 2021 issue of Retail News. To get the latest issue, subscribe here