Kilwinning retailer Sandeep Dhaliwal has been running the family business for three years. His fresh ideas and a major refurbishment have yielded great results.
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How did you get started in convenience retailing?
My mum and dad had a shop in Kilmarnock when my brother and I were growing up. I was serving when I was about 12. That’s how we got into it. When I was younger I didn’t really see myself ending up working in the shop, but as time went on I just spent more and more time in it. My dad moved into the takeaway business for about four years, but he wasn’t enjoying it so we moved to Kilwinning and bought the shop here. We’ve been here for 11 years and I’ve been in charge for about three.
How optimistic do you feel about the convenience retail industry?
I think the business is what you want it to be. If you’re happy in a 1,000 sq ft shop with old floors and old freezers, then that’s up to you. But if you’ve got the drive to expand and improve, then you can. I saw when I took over the shop that we would get more customers, sales and turnover if we invested some money. And that’s what we’ve done.
Which areas of retailing do you think present the best opportunities?
A lot of people will probably say fresh. I agree with that to an extent, there is a lot of profit, but there’s a lot of waste as well. I did try for about six months, but it didn’t really work. I was quite disappointed actually. But I switched things around, got in more soft drinks and I found that sales have risen there. There are also opportunities in greeting cards. We had a 75% increase in card sales last year. We used to have a guy supplying all the cards, but I was thinking how poor they were. If I would never buy them, what are the odds my customers would? I decided to bin the lot, go to the cash & carry myself and personally pick the cards that I would buy. Suddenly the sales took a rise. We try to upsell when someone buys a card too, with a gift or a sparkling wine glass. There’s a lot of easy money to be made in greeting cards.
Which areas do you think require more work in your store?
I think I need work on fresh. Like I said, I did give it a try and it didn’t work, but there’s nothing to say that a year or six months down the line I won’t decide to give it another bash.
It may have a lot to do with my location. We’ve got a lot of competition in Kilwinning. I’ll have to think about what I can offer that other shops don’t.
What technological tools do you find useful for growing your business?
I started my Facebook page maybe three years ago. I was wondering what I could do to bring extra customers in. Everyone’s Facebook mad, especially in Kilwinning, so I made a page and just saw the ‘likes’ grow and grow. I also started paying for promotion of my posts. That meant they spread and reached more people beyond the town. I think that brought in a lot of new customers and it still works well. I try to update it every day, which isn’t always easy, but you don’t want customers to think you’re neglecting it. I use EPOS for alcohol quite often. I probably don’t use it as much as I should, but it’s useful for keeping our wine range up to date. If EPOS is there you should use it. You pay to get it installed. If you don’t use it, it’s a bit of a waste.
How do you try to differentiate your business from the competition?
We always try to be a bit unique. To customers every shop looks more or less the same, but if you can have one thing that makes you stand out, they’ll come to you. This Christmas our big craze was the Buckfast gift wrap. That contained a bottle of Buckfast, a half bottle, two cans and two miniatures, all wrapped up with big bows. I put it on Facebook, priced at £23 each, and a couple of days later it had been seen by 15,000 people and I had 30 orders. My brother Mandeep spent ages putting them all together, but it brought in an extra £1,000. Things like gift wraps with a bottle of wine and a sparkling glass, there’s a lot of money there. We’ve got Valentine’s Day soon, so we’ve got plans to put more things like that together.
How was Christmas overall?
I think Christmas is going downhill. I think a lot of the magic has gone out of it and it’s not as big as it once was. Before we know it supermarkets will be opening on Christmas Day. But if you’ve got something unique to offer, the customers will come get it.
What effect will the national living wage have on your business?
The way I see it, all you can do is cut hours and start working more yourself. And a lot of items will probably have to go up in price. That’s obvious. I am concerned about losing staff to competitors if they’re offering to pay above the living wage. I like to hope our staff are loyal, but we can only pay what we can afford.
What other industry issues do you care strongly about?
Paypoint. They need to start paying their retailers something that makes the service worthwhile. With the current commission, if a customer comes in with a £200 bill I end up making a loss. It’s at the point where you’re almost tempted to turn away customers, because it’s not worth the hassle. Why should I be at a loss for offering a Paypoint service and processing their transactions? For a company making as much money as they are, how can they not pay their retailers?
What do you hope to achieve in 2016?
Well it’s too cold in the shop, so I’m going to get air conditioning. That’s probably one of the things we should’ve done when we got it done up last year, but it wasn’t in the budget. So I’m looking to get it installed in the next few months. I’d like to make the shop bigger too, if the property next door became available, but I don’t know if that’ll happen this year. I’d like to get into the food business, maybe buy a few properties. I’ve always had this aim that I would retire by 45 max. I’m still on course, with 20 years to go, but to fulfil it I need to buy more things, I need to keep adding to my portfolio. There’s a lot of money in commercial property, so I’m keeping my eye out for any that come up and I’d also like to start a food business. Hopefully that’ll happen this year.