Chisum Nagrathawali tells Asian Trader why his three forecourt sites near Manchester City Centre help him to give back to the community
Tell us about your portfolio of stores?
I have three forecourts that each have a good-sized convenience store – I have a Mace, a Premier and an independent. I like to oversee everything but I have store managers and family members running the day-to-day businesses. They follow the retailing principals I lay down. I have been in retail since I was a boy so it is all I have ever known.
How is business?
Between my seven stores, weekly turnover is over a £60,000 so we are not doing too bad. My aim to get my annual turnover to pass the £5m mark. I have a few BP and Texaco forecourts near my sites, plus a couple of supermarkets with forecourts and numerous convenience stores dotted around. But most of my sites are in the best locations, on the right side of busy roads going out of town so my morning trade is very good.
What is the secret to your success?
From my many years of experience I have created a strict structure to manage all the stores successfully. Firstly I don’t buy a site that is far from my current locations. They are all within 25 mile radius of each other. I employ a trusted full-time manager for each store but I also like to keep a close eye on things myself. I make sure I visit each store once a week and spend about two or three hours in each one. I catch up on all the business in the back-office, but also like to watch the shop floor to see how my staff engage with customers.
What about inside your stores, what drives sales?
The floor plans of my sites have a lot to do with my success. Even more than a normal convenience store, a forecourt site has to be built to allow for a customer to come in, buy something and walk out in a quick, seamless movement. After all, they have their cars waiting and a journey to get on with.
Customer service is important to me and the most important thing is manners. I want my staff to simply be polite and helpful, that is the best customer service one can expect. For example, I know it is not the British way to ask for help straight away. So I always remind my staff to keep a vigilant eye out for anyone who seems to be struggling with a service or if they can’t find what they want, and to go to them and ask what they need.
Also, I tell my staff to look out for anyone who needs help with using the tyre pressure or water filling machines. If they see anyone like that they should go out and assist them.
How do conduct staff training?
I train all my staff personally and my philosophy is that all retailers from the shop assistant to the manager should know their trade. For instance, if people need help topping up their engine oil, my boys will know how to do that as well as check for other motor vehicle basics. I never want anyone to go away from my shop even mildly dissatisfied as it reflects badly on me directly.
Your known as a good businessman but also a community champion…
Yes. My businesses are profitable, but I’ve always wanted my shops to give something back to the customers rather than just be another big money making name. That is why I will love being an independent, because it means I can just do this without asking permission from someone else.
What do you do in the community?
I’m the co-chairman at my local temple and I spend a lot of time co-ordinating fundraising efforts for the local area. My usual duties include the complex task of organising visits, prayer and meal times for thousands of people that come every week. I also volunteer my time to organise counselling support for locals, as well as helping them to sort any issues with the council and immigration.
What have you done recently?
Between all my businesses we have raised around £10,000 in donations and helped fill around 40 big bags with clothing, blankets and dry foods to give to homeless charities. I have always made my shops a part of the community, which is why I took considerable amounts of money out of the profits from all the forecourts to put towards charitable work.