Me and My Store: Amrit Kaur Maan of Maan News in Halesowen, Birmingham

Amrit came to the UK from Chandigarh in Indian Punjab more than 40 years ago. She and her British-born husband now run Maan News, which stands on the top of a hill in Halesowen, Birmingham

Amrit Kaur Maan

How would you describe your store?

We’re a traditional newsagent and convenience store. I like to be independent and have been for 32 years. I don’t believe in symbol groups at all. I don’t know why, I just I love to choose my own things and everything. The shop and the house are together and we extended it and live over the shop.

What sort of trading area do you operate in?

It’s residential. It used to be a mix of council housing but most people have bought their properties from the council now. It’s a long road and where it starts it’s all private, and down the hill there are council houses. We are on a hill, we never have flooding!

How long have you been a retailer?

I came over from Chandigarh over 40 years ago, but we were in Wolverhampton then and did have a little shop there. But I have been here for 32 years.

What is the best and the worst thing about the job?

The best is we know everybody by their name and we have seen people grow up and having their own children and settling down. And the worst thing is, relying on deliveries and things like that. In the morning we just wait, wait, wait. And things go missing – we lose a lot from deliveries.

What is the biggest challenge in retailing?

To be honest, supermarkets. I tell customers that their buying power and our buying power is totally different, but it’s still the biggest problem generally because people always compare the prices. You must pay more for convenience.

Do you think retailers get the respect they deserve from the local community?

If you had asked me that question about ten years ago, I would say 100 per cent. We did have respect. But now it’s very challenging times and it has completely changed. We get 50 per cent respect and they really, really think the world of us. But the other fifty per cent? No. They want their way and that’s it.

Do you find the suppliers’ category management plans work?

I have tried planograms but it depends on the area. Sometimes I do go by the book, but to be honest it’s all about pricing. You can put something at the back of the fridge and if the price is right, they’ll find it.

What brands or categories do you find bring more footfall into your store?

Newspapers, magazines, the lottery. And soft drinks, especially energy drinks – we have a proper fridge for the Monster. And another one, Boost – I really respect that company. They support independents. When lockdown started we had a letter from them saying to email if there was any help they could give. They sent “Be Kind” stickers for the shop and facemasks and everything, and I want to thank all their staff.

How do you get up-to-date information on new products?

Through Asian Trader! It’s not because I’m talking to you that I say this. I do read it. And I read some others, the trade press. And the warehouse sends us leaflets.

How much do your sales depend on seasons and weather?

Only one thing that matters and that’s snow on the ground. Maybe it’s once every two years or three, and then we don’t have any stuff left at all, neither bread nor milk. Apart from that there is no season at all – all the year around is the same. On a hot day you have the soft drinks and ice cream sales, the small things.

Do you get the support you need from the local police force? 

To be honest, no. The last four or five years we have needed some help but I wasn’t happy. When you need them, they’ll say somebody will call you, but after a week when it’s too late. The criminals know nobody is going to listen to the shopkeepers.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to your local retailer? 

Get a good security system – CTVC cameras, and do not leave shelves empty because they don’t look nice. And do whatever you feel is right for shop: don’t look to other people.

What sections of the store work best for you and which are the most challenging?

Best for me is soft drinks and energy drinks. The most challenging is groceries – sugar, teabags – because the prices are so hard. Frozen food as well. But people always have money for soft drinks. We are endlessly filling the fridges – you wouldn’t believe it.

What help/advice would you like to see most from manufacturers/suppliers?

I’d like the newspapers to come in on time, but it’s not going to happen. I’d have more chance of winning the lottery. And when the presses were blockaded by Extinction Rebellion the supermarket got copies of The Sun but there was none for us.

Do you ever have customers asking for products they have seen on TV that you know nothing about?

It has never happened to me because most of the time I watch the TV and I am always reading the papers!

If you were to give up your store tomorrow, what would you like to do?

I’d like to go to Chandigarh tomorrow, actually. But really I would like to do some charity work, on Christmas day because we work long hours and are always tired. But I would like to give out meals to the homeless at Christmas.