Me and My Store: Dharsan Premkumar, Nisa Local, Chanterlands Avenue, Hull

Dharsan Premkumar opened his latest shop – a Nisa in Hull – back in March, just as the lockdown was imposed. We find out what it’s been opening into such a period of change and upheaval.

Dharsan Premkumar

How would you describe your store?

We are in the new Nisa concept format – it was a Co-op before that. We have another three stores and we are based in Nottingham, where we’ve been based in Nottingham for about ten years, though I am originally from East London. This store is 1600 sq ft, a pure convenience store where people can do their full daily and near-enough weekly shops. We’ve taken on a large variety of the Co-op products and we are ranging 400-500 of their SKUs.

What sort of trading area do you operate in?

It’s a small high street and we have quite a lot of residential around and about 80 per cent of our trade is local customers and the rest is passing trade. There’s a Sainsbury Local nearby but the supermarkets are a couple of miles away to Tesco so definitely a car journey to get there.

How long have you been a retailer?

My business partner’s mum was a very successful retailer in forecourts and I worked with her, on and off, since the age of about fourteen or fifteen, same as my business partner. So we go back a long way and it’s what I’ve always done.

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

The best thing is that you are working for yourself. You get to know a lot of customers personally, you know what they want, and after some time most of the customers get to know you really well and there’s always a little laugh and banter. I work pretty long hours, 80-85 a week, but that’s my choice. I suppose the worst is dealing with certain situations, and in retail you are prone to a certain amount of abuse.

What is the biggest challenge in retailing?

Now, I would say it’s pushing yourself. It’s never enough, week-on-week, you have to keep pushing and keep up with the times, introducing something new just to increase the budget of the consumer and keep them with you. That’s always a task to keep on top of.

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

I would say yes, especially where you run a store within a community and the customers keep coming back to you. On a broader definition of being recognised and appreciated, no. I think the work that goes into these small-medium convenience stores is very underestimated by the public.

Do you find the suppliers’ category management plans work?

We are big on fresh and chilled here, about 25 per cent of our total value sales, and recently Nisa came and reviewed all of that for us. We make changes according to new products that come out and customer requests. Broadly we follow category plans.

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

Fresh and chilled – that’s one of the big drivers into this store. It’s ten years or more that people might have gone to the greengrocer or the butcher. I think that Convenience has become a little more competitive. The range you’re able to obtain through the symbol groups has improved a lot.

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

Business Live website is good – a daily email, and the symbol groups are good and there’s been daily updates from them over Covid-19.

How much do your sales depend on seasons and weather?

We might hit another ten per cent in the summer but the variation is not that much. Hull is quite near the coast but it’s not a seaside resort!

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

If we call them they are out pretty much immediately but we have not had to use them here yet on an emergency basis. We do have panic alarms for the staff and we are signed up for a thing called Redcare from BT via an alarm company.

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

Innovate and keep things exciting with new lines. Make sure you’ve got as much variety as possible  – and most importantly of all always keep your store refreshed. We refresh all our stores once every three years. It doesn’t have to be massive, as long as you’re doing something.

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

They are the same: fresh and chilled, in the sense that you are always battling wastage. We’ve done chilled food to go from the start. With the hot food to go we’ve waited for things to start getting back to normal, so we’ll see how it goes.

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

It would be good to have more information on availability directly through manufacturers. We suffered under the lockdown and to an extent we still are with things like alcohol.

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

Only one or two products over the years that I’ve come across. I can’t even remember what it was off the top of my head!

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

I have two German Shepherds, and I am very interested in dogs, so I would like to do something like taking in homeless dogs or running a dog home.