Innovation and dare to dream attitude seem to be this retailer’s strong attribute as she continues to victoriously sail the otherwise-usually men-dominated world of retail.
No wonder, retailer Shamly Sud, also Director at GHSL LTD, won hearts in Asian Trader Awards in 2022, eventually bagging the top accolade (Asian Trader of the Year) for her remarkable store- Racetrack Pitstop Premier store in Strathclyde.
RaceTrack Pitstop in Strathclyde is Glasgow’s one of the most talked about forecourt petrol stations and retail stores. Every area of the store is said to be impeccably and beautifully merchandised to create dramatic in store theatre in every category, resonating with innovation and reinvention.
The store boasts a carefully curated wine and spirits selection, an impressive beer cave and an exceptionally wide variety of soft drinks and a mind-boggling dessert section, all immaculately merchandised in wall-to-wall chiller cabinets.
It is safe to say that Shamly, her husband Vikas Sud and her team have successfully created a positive and a different kind of retail experience that not only aligns with changing customer expectations but also sometimes surpasses them by multiple levels.
Not an exaggeration to say that RaceTrack Pitstop in Strathclyde is like a fun day out at the mall.
Speaking to Asian Trader, Shamly revealed what keeps her driven and inspired.
“One of the main things is that we are open to other ideas. We often visit the US and other countries and we subconsciously and constantly absorb new ideas. If I find something good, I try to incorporate the same into our business.
“We just look around, travel a lot and pick up various things and develop them with our own insight. Through these innovations and new ideas, we are just trying to make convenience a little bit more fun.
“It’s about bringing in best practices.”
Owned by GHSL, Premier Racetrack has developed a reputation for creating spectacular stores, drawing influences from as far as the US, the Middle East and Asia. It has 11 such stores across Glasgow at the moment with one more to come up soon.
Shamly has constantly shown creativity and innovation across all aspects of the business, including store design and product displays, as well as stocking specialist products and items that are simply extra ordinary.
A similar creative imagination coupled with substantial investment has allowed the development of three successful own-brands – Tubbees, VAPED4U and Hoagies – that make the GHSL Ltd stores unique.
The standout features in her stores include Nitro Lab liquid nitrogen ice cream parlour, over 80 flavours of slush, Cuban cigar humidor, beer cave, 20m Tubbies dessert bar, seated diner area and more than 60 digital screens.
Noteworthy here is that she is also the winner of Food to Go Award in 2021’s Asian Trader Awards, which is given to an innovator who has adapted best to the changing tastes and needs of their customers with delicious ready-to-eat foods and meals.
An outstanding part of her award-winning store is Hoagies, the business’ own food-to-go brand that was developed to fill the gap in this section in their stores. Hoagies offers a range of food for those on the go – chicken bites, pasta, salad, nachos with fresh toppings, plenty of sauce options, a hot nacho station and vegan coffee.
“Hoagies is something that we are still continuing to develop. We’ve done the first phase. In the second phase, we will have our own tablets in the store where customers can order their food on touch screen menu,” she told Asian Trader.
Acknowledging the plans to develop Hoagies into a franchise model, Shamly stated that it is under consideration and it’s something that will definitely be looked at in the future.
The store’s Tubbees Dessert bar offers a world of imported treats, a variety of mouth-watering desserts and up to 96 flavours of slush- a perfect sweet tooth dream.
The store also offers a massive range of vapes under VAPED4U, she said, adding that the business also takes online orders too through their own website, which is another “huge category”.
RaceTrack stores have gained a lot of attention on social media as well, resulting in a host of user generated content – mostly on TikTok. Their concession brands are featured in multiple viral TikTok videos, greatly increasing their popularity and in turn attracting great footfall.
“We keep a lot of imported goods and we’re always on the lookout at resourcing more varied products. We constantly try to see how and what else we can get better.”
The staff at Race Track store receives high quality training on a regular basis, ensuring they are up to date with new procedures, laws and regulations particularly around the sale of restricted items – such as alcohol and vapes.
The store has a dedicated Beer Cave section which ensures age-restricted entry, while vapes are kept in a locked cabinet, with only staff having the opportunity to access this.
Speaking about refurbishment, she stated how they keep tweaking the stores, looking and revising them through various angles and lenses.
“Our sole aim is to cater to our customers in best possible way and maximise our revenue.”
Shamly’s and her team’s collective efforts can be ascertained by word on the street which says that their outlets are light years ahead of what many consumers might expect to find in a convenience store.
The group is about to open a new store in late January which is set to be even better. It will have a slew of new and innovative services like in-store laundry section.
As a multi-site operator, Shamly gives a lot of credit to her staff for playing a pivotal role in the business.
“Staff training and development is crucial. We encourage our staff at the end of the day as we wouldn’t be where we are today if we didn’t have good managers working for us.
“I believe that it is the staff that gives actual service to the customer because they are the first point of contact. My husband has actually made some videos of his own for managers for training purposes.
“We strongly encourage our managers to develop their new staff and encourage them to become supervisors,” she told Asian Trader.
However, finding the right staff is one of the major challenges that Shamly has been facing lately.
Like other retailer outlets, Race Track stores are also struggling with rising crime.
“Crime is a major aspect, and we are struggling with it. We are just doing everything to the best of our abilities,” she said, revealing more about their tech-based approach.
“We have a lot of CCTV cameras. In stores where cases were higher, we have also installed face recognition solutions along with an IT team to support. So, if someone gets caught stealing from any of our premises, we circulate the offender’s image across all sites. In fact, it has happened when one person was caught in one store, and that same person went to another store of ours, but we were able to stop him from entering.”
Shoplifting and theft is giving a “hard time” to everyone, she said, explaining how staying vigilant is now a crucial part of staff training.
“We are trying to train our staff to be more vigilant to look out for potential offenders for the safety of business as well as for safety of other customers. We make sure that our staff is on the constant lookout for anything that looks suspicious and be aware of people in the store,” she said.
Shamly feels particularly disappointed at the police response.
“The only issue I have is that the police don’t support us as much as they should. We have had a couple of instances where we also had the CCTV footage. We got the incident reported but they did not do much. Clearly, it was not a high enough priority case for them.”
Higher prices have been pinching everyone, she said, so are the business costs and higher bills.
“We are seeing people inclining towards own brand ranges as they continue to hunt for value products. Our sales are obviously impacted. Combined with increasing business costs, energy bills and overall effects of this cost-of-living crisis, things are not very upbeat.”
Times might be tough, but Shamly is definitely not among the ones to slow down.
“We keep adapting and promoting our offering. We keep value products as well as premium ones those who want and can buy them. At the end of the day, we keep evolving and let customer know that they’re getting the best prices.
“We are trying our best to increase revenue by putting across this message for buyers that we offer value products. We do all the promotions that are given. We are constantly striving to move forward and increase our revenue as expenses are not coming down anytime sooner. So, the only way to move is actually to increase the sales and that comes with innovation and better value products so that customers are enticed to keep coming back,” she said.
It’s all in the family
Shamly practically “grew up in a business family”. Her parents used to run a small convenience store when she was a young child.
She had worked as a schoolteacher for a short time before having children. She later joined her husband in retail and eventually the couple bought their first garage in 2011.
“Today, we have 10 stores. We have simply built up from one site. Our two elder sons are also working with us.”
Speaking over what pushed her to acquire more sites, she stated that opportunities came along soon after they acquired their first garage.
“We were happy with the five garages but then we went further and acquired more when my children joined the business,” she said.
It’s not only the expansion but also the innovation that is commendable here. Shamly and the GHSL Ltd team have successfully transformed their forecourts and convenience stores business
into destination stores, overcoming the challenges presented in recent times by both the pandemic and the ongoing economic crisis. Managing a family of nine members and three dogs, Shamly seemingly has her hands full yet spirits high.
Shamly stated that her husband has been her constant support and a great partner in this journey.
“A lot of the ideas that we have in our stores, we had come upon as a family. He (Vikas) is usually the one who initially visualises the idea, like having big screens in the store. We do discuss and take everybody’s opinion but at the end of the day, he is the person with all the ideas.
“My elder son Guna is in charge of vapes category and he is also running the online business. My second son Rits looks after all the imported goods that come in. He also has a very much a one-to-one relationship with all the managers, so he is always assisting them if some store is facing staff shortage or any other issue.
“We all are in one business, but we also like them to have their own space so that we are not stepping on each other. I have three girls too-Supriya has started working while Surina and Sunaina are still in school.”
For Shamly, hard work is the key to success. Despite winning the industry’s most-prestigious award, she feels she is “still learning”.
“I think if you want to do well, you have to put in some extra hours and treat every day as a learning day. Respect the people around you and work as a team. And that’s the only way to move forward,” she concluded.