How would you describe your store?
I’m on the outskirts of south Birmingham, next to Longbridge and Rubery, and my store, Cofton News and Wines, is probably under 1000 square feet. We’re independent, a Lifestyle Express right now. I find being independent good – I go to which cash and carry I want, zooming around in my van, and I don’t get bossed around.
What sort of trading area do you operate in?
I would say it’s more of a residential area now. I’m in a small parade with a financial advisor, a chip shop and a Chinese take-away. They are building 300 houses maybe a half a mile away right now. Well, not even half a mile – maybe like a few hundred yards. The nearest school is probably maybe a mile away, and we’ve got a couple of big supermarkets people would need to drive to – a Sainsbury’s, a Morrisons, and then you’ve got the Longbridge development where they’ve got all the big shops.
How long have you been a retailer?
Nearly 13 years by now, I think, but who’s counting that kind of stuff! My dad used to have a convenience store, so I sort of grew up with that. He did a few things after he came over from India, but that was one of them.
What is the best and the worst thing about the job?
Well, the best thing is probably when you’ve made some good money. That’s good. That, and meeting new people, because in this job you are always meeting people. And the worst thing is probably – I’ll be honest with you – when you have to get up in the morning some days. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the long hours, it’s getting up in the morning.
What is the biggest challenge in retailing?
Definitely the biggest challenge is probably trying to keep everyone happy, you know?
And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. Because you’re trying to get the customers. With the pandemic it has actually got better. When we were in the proper lockdown, from March until June-July, it was just brilliant – busiest ever, ever. Now it’s about trying to keep that flowing.
Do you think retailers get the respect they deserve from the local community?
Yes, I do. I treat them like they treat me. They’re all good people around here. I call them by their names sometimes and have a little talk with them. They come in and have a chat, gossip and whatever.
Do you find the suppliers’ category management plans work?
Yeah, it gives me an idea of what I want to do and where I might begin. I don’t follow them particularly, though.
What brands or categories do you find bring more footfall into your store?
I think it’s more drinks– soft drinks. That, and confectionery. Energy drinks are probably one of the biggest sellers. Personally, myself, I don’t drink them – only if I need to, if I’m tired and I’m going somewhere. But customers love them. For what is selling at the moment, I would say Red Bull is number one. Then Red Bull no added sugar and Monster, the green one.
How do you get up-to-date information on new products?
I read Asian Trader [laughs]. I also get other magazines. Smiths send me some because I do newspapers as well, but then I get them through the post as well, so I send the ones from Smiths back because they charge!
How much do your sales depend on seasons and weather?
Seasons help a lot. I think Hallowe’en is a big one. Sweet sales again, confectionery. Sometimes it goes mad – I’ve got Cofton Park across the road, then there’s Lickey Hills and the castle ten minutes away that gets a lot of visitors. I really haven’t pushed any displays or things like that, but I think I might have to, soon. It’s getting hard with this new lockdown. This month has quietened down this week and I’ve been noticing the difference.
Do you get the support you need from the local police force?
To be honest, if I need them I’m sure they’ll be there. A lot of shoplifting has been going on during the lockdown, a lot. The police did come, I can’t knock them for that. But they didn’t do anything. It’s the conditions we’re in at the moment, and they are focussing on resources.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to your local retailer?
Well, I can’t give out my secrets – no comment! [laughs]
What sections of the store work best for you and which are the most challenging?
Maybe the card section is quite hard to handle. I do pet food – pet food is big, you know? Some of the pets get fed more than us.
What help/advice would you like to see most from manufacturers/suppliers?
Maybe try to come down on the price. They should help us independent shops out as well, because I think they push more onto the big supermarkets, which is half the price we can sell it for. They’re not giving us the deals–how do I keep people coming in?
Do you ever have customers asking for products they have seen on TV that you know nothing about?
Very rarely. I’ll always try and get something in if a customer asks me.
If you were to give up your store tomorrow, what would you like to do?
Cruise the world, that’s it, man!