Selling the pinch from inflated prices, higher bills and increased staff wages, Mamar Yogarajah tells Asian Trader how he is keeping things afloat at his Smethwick mini-market.
Tell us a little about your history?
I initially did an electronics degree at university, but after working in a convenience store I decided my talents lay in customer service. So I began a career as an independent retailer, concentrating on delivering what people need with great customer service. It’s a hard industry but very satisfying, because you can make decent money whilst answering only to yourself.
How long have you been a retailer?
Nine years now. I have retailed in many different places, from Scotland to the south-west of England, but I’m currently settled in Birmingham, where I have three sites, one forecourt, one off-license and this, a mini-supermarket.
Where do you get your stock from?
From the day I started I’ve been loyal to Bestway and Booker. I have a great relationship with both, they helped lay out all my stores in the beginning too and are always on hand for support when I need it.
Tell us the history of your Smethwick store?
I bought it three years ago and did a major re-fit a year later. I’ve spent a large sum of money on it but have done quite well from it because it is in a great location. It’s on the main road into the city off the M6 so I get a lot of footfall in the evening with the after-work crowd. But recently I’ve had a triple sting in higher purchasing costs, energy bills and staff wages with the living wage. Turnover dipped significantly.
What did you do to rectify the situation?
Firstly I went through all my outgoings with a fine tooth comb. I cut back on wastage and bills and saved some money, but not enough to make up for the losses on turnover. In the end, unfortunately I had to cut the hours of the staff. It was the last thing I wanted to do of course, but it was absolutely necessary for the long-term survival of the store. Obviously there were some grumbles but at least no-one lost their job and most of the staff understood the situation. Really, if you have exhausted other avenues and your shop is performing as best it can, then there is no other way.
How is business going now?
It has improved slightly. People are a little more optimistic now and we are seeing this in our sales.
Describe your store for us?
It has a rectangular floor plan and the electronic doors open up right in the middle of it. You have to walk past most of the store to get to the tills which are at the far right end. There are three aisles in the middle and gondola ends on each which display promotions at eye-sight right where the customers walk in.
What do you sell?
Everything a supermarket would. We have the basics like bread, milk and diary, but also a chilled, frozen, food to go and alcohol section. We sell tobacco and car products as well, plus flowers outside the store.
What is your retail philosophy?
I know it is a cliché but it is that the customer is always right. I tell that to my staff all the time, and even when a customer is in the wrong, if they aren’t satisfied then my staff know they can call me and I will deal with it personally.
Who trains your staff?
I do. I have worked at all levels in a convenience store and know the business inside out. So I feel I have enough experience to pass my knowledge on and train my staff the right way so they are prepared for whatever they face.
How important are promotions to your business?
Extremely important. I always pass on the weekly promotions I get from the wholesalers and suppliers and make sure I have enough stock to see it out all week. Around here the customers love promotions and that’s why I put them on the gondola ends right in front of the entrance, by the tills and facing the tills. That way the customer eyes are never away from seeing a promotion.
What is your best-selling category?
Chilled. At the moment I have 12 promotions on chilled alone and it really helps drive the category.
What do you do for community relations?
I try and sponsor the right kind of local charities. I always make my store open to charity boxes and am always willing to listen to ideas.
What does the future hold for you?
At the moment I want to continue improving and developing the store. But I am always on the lookout for new sites with good locations. I feel that the more good stores you have the more chance you have of beating recessions.