Me and My Store: Hardeep ‘Hardy’ Chahal, Costcutter Poulton Road, Wallasey

When he is not developing properties and even making an appearance on the BBC’s Homes Under The Hammer, Hardeep 'Hardy' Chahal, runs a Costcutter in Wirral, on the west bank of the River Mersey

Hardeep Chahal

How would you describe your store?

It’s a modest 1200 square feet but it’s got a bit of everything. About three years ago we had a fire that started in an ice-cream freezer. We were closed for six months but I managed to open about half the shop after about two or three weeks later just for essentials, to keep the business ticking over.

When we did the renovation, I had all new services put in like an ice cream machine, really popular in the summer, a Freal machine, a constant hot food-to-go microwave, a coffee machine, a Rustlers machine. We’ve got the lottery – a bit of everything. I say it’s like a one-stop shop for everything.

What sort of trading area do you operate in?

It’s a council state, unemployment is quite high. It’s a challenging environment and the challenge is that no two days are ever the same. There’s three schools within a 10-minute walking distance.

The area is densely populated – it’s chimneys, just streets and houses. There’s a lot of competition, a lot of shops. Everyone’s got their own little base, really, and we know most of the customers and they know us.

How long have you been a retailer?

My dad had a shop in Rock Ferry, so I’ve been in the business a long time. After school we would work in the shop, and on the weekends, helping my parents out. I got this shop 15 years ago. It was previously a Spar, and when I took over I just reopened it, because it had been closed a year.

What’s the best and the worst thing about the job?

Never two days the same! I’m not into an office job, just sitting there all day. And you’ve got to adapt to your situation – like with Covid, you’ve got to start doing deliveries. You can’t sit still, that’s what I like. I do like developing staff, though, and I’ve got a good team around me now. Some have been with us since we first opened.The worst thing is probably the shoplifters.

What is the biggest challenge in retailing?

Currently it’s COVID because there’s so many restrictions, but other than that, you’ve got to stay one step ahead of the competition with new ideas. In the summer we push out the Freal machines; in the winter we’ll do coffees deals and meal deals. It’s about offering a new service and promoting it.

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

I say we do, yes. Yeah. A lot people know us.

Do you find the suppliers’ category management plans work?

I’ve had the same BDM for a long time now and he’s really good. As for category management, they all do their own plans. But mainly, I always adjust it to what you need. Some are really expensive but we’re about value and our customers want PMPs.

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

Alcohol, soft drinks and snacks, Lotto rollovers. But where my shop is, a lot of people do gas and electric top-ups. They’re not people who get a quarterly bill. They come in every day to put on £2 or £3. They live hand-to-mouth, my customers.

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

I read some of the trade magazines but I like going to the cash and carry to see what’s around.

How much do your sales depend on seasons and weather?

Not very much. Although hot weather is busier with every having beers and BBQs. But with all these restrictions it’s been a funny year and busy every day because the pubs are shut. I’ve capitalised on that and I’ve put in a blade beer machine.

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

Not really, to be honest with you. We’ve got a local bobby that pops in. But the police are always coming into check our CCTV as it covers the street and if there’s a crash or robbery, or drug dealing, we’ll have it on camera.

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

If you put your time and effort in, you can make it a success. You should always be trying out new ideas and don’t be afraid to do it. If an idea doesn’t work, do something else or adjust it.

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

Everything has to be value, so whatever shifts. But again, alcohol, snacks, sweets are our best-sellers. What’s the slowest? Probably stationery. And magazines. Nobody reads them, just the old people.

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

Just give me freebies, a palette of free stuff! But seriously, samples and stuff to try out, or you don’t know anything until you see it in a magazine.

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

Yeah, we get that all the time. If it’s a new line, like the Twirl Orange – people go mad for it, and it’s restricted to like certain retailers and wholesalers. Same with Au Vodka, and then people come in asking for it.

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

I like developing property and I like to flip few houses, but I might go for a franchise, a McDonalds or a KFC. I think the food is the future.