Harsunkha Braith Tells Asian Trader Why His Liquor and Convenience Store in Sutton Coldfield is Attracting Bids from Multiples
Tell us a little about your history?
I came to England from Bangladesh seven years ago and I came with the express purpose of buying a convenience store. Back home I owned a car garage, but here it is hard to get into that kind of work. I wanted long term success and knew of some relatives that had c-shops in England so I decided to go into retailing.
How did you pick this store?
I initially came to London and looked through many shops that estate agents would send me. I remember buying a very old car and a sat-nav to travel all around England, even Scotland, looking for the right store. I must have looked at around 50 shops before seeing this site.
Why did you pick this store?
It ticked all the boxes. It was a big store with room to expand and it was in a great location – in between three schools with plenty of residential area around it – so I knew it wouldn’t be short of customers. The clincher was that it was doing so poorly. I remember the turnover being something like £8,000 a week. I used to sit in my car from 7am til lunchtime, and sometimes into the evening, just to see what kind of customers came in, how much they spent and what it sold. I knew after that it was the right store with plenty of potential and that I was the man to change it.
What specific problems did the store have?
The problems the store had were mainly down to the staff. They were rude, poorly managed and unprofessional. At the time the store had a reputation for selling alcohol to underage kids. This bought all sorts of problems with anti-social behaviour outside the store, which upset the neighbours and the police. Also stock availability was rubbish, the shelves were empty and it wasn’t very clean.
What did you do to turn it around?
I immediately sacked most of the staff and retrained the ones that showed hunger for the job. I set new standards and, as an example, did most of the things myself like stock taking, customer service and cleaning the store, in order to show the staff how I like things to be done. I hired new staff I could trust and sorted out the stock availability.
I began going to the cash and carry more and began filling my store with every category possible. Also
the pricing wasn’t right for the area. They had quality wine on sale for £14.95 so I bought in more products for affordable prices that the locals wanted.
Did it work?
Yes it did. Turnover began to creep up but more importantly the perception of the store changed dramatically. They could get on with me and could see I was making an effort to turn the store around, so they responded to that. Also they recognised I was serious about my work and how I wanted the store to look.
Were there any tough moments at the beginning?
Yes, in the first year or two I had a lot of problems with the groups of youths that used to come here for their alcohol. I stopped that immediately and they became upset and would often come in here to abuse me and the staff, and often there were racist things done and said. But we stayed strong and rode it out, plus the police played some part. Now we have no problems.
How is business now?
Very well. Turnover has trebled since I took over, plus me and my wife are very settled now. Our kids go to the local schools, our customers are friends of ours and business is doing so well that Tesco recently sent me a letter offering to buy the place off me. I’m sure they want to turn it into a large Tesco Express because my site also includes 1,500 sq ft of space at the back that they could expand into. There has been interest from other parties as well.
Would you sell?
No I don’t think I will – unless they offer me crazy money! Because it is my first store I feel quite attached to it, there are a lot of emotions wrapped up in this store so I can’t imagine selling it to a supermarket.
Describe your store for us?
The store sits in the middle of a mini shopping parade off a very busy road. There are around 12 shops in the parade, which runs in a semi-circle off the road. There is a space outside the shops for car parking. When I moved in the fascia was tired and the windows were dirty with old posters covering them. So I changed all of that, added a new fascia, opened the window space to allow light in and cleaned the frontage up. Inside, the store is very roomy and has three double sided gondola aisles. There is a row of chillers and refrigeration as soon as the customer walks in which has all my chilled and food-to-go offers in.
What sort of area is your store in?
It is a working class residential area. There is a large council estate nearby where a lot of my customers come from. We have three schools in the vicinity too, so morning and after school times are very busy times for us. We are situated on a busy road so we get passing trade, plus we have two large pubs at either end of the road and lots of houses next to and behind us.
What do you sell?
We sell virtually everything: groceries, chilled, frozen, fruit and veg, newspapers, 99p sweets, traditional sweets, toiletries, household, beauty products, tobacco and alcohol. We even sell some stationary, women’s accessories and DVDs.
Where do you get your stock from?
Mainly from cash and carry and wholesalers. Twice a week I visit to Batleys, Booker and Eastenders. I get some things from Palmer & Harvey too. I used to have stock delivered but I prefer to shop myself now as with delivered stock you do get a lot of stock that is close to its sell by date.
If you had one wish to improve your business what would it be?
It would be to add a proper car park, and to regulate the people that park here. It is so busy around here that people park just to visit the pub or the school, instead of actually using the shops. Unfortunately when I tried to get the rest of the shops to agree with the idea they didn’t go for it because of the cost involved. In my mind they are thinking conservatively because the spaces would add so much to their margins over the years.
What is the best part of your job?
Chatting to the customers. It can get boring at times, sitting behind the counter all day, so I like it when one of my friends comes in to buy something because I know we can have a good conversation as well.
What does the future hold for you?
I want to own more stores and be a multiple shop owner. I came to this country with a set plan to buy a store, make it a success and then do the same with two or three more. I have done the first two things now I have the final bit to do.