Me and My Store: Jassi Singh, International Food Centre, London

Jassi Singh runs his store, the International Food Centre, with his brothers Mandeep and Cheran. Situated on Cricklewood Broadway in London, on the A5 arterial road leading to Marble Arch in the West End, it’s a busy but still largely residential area

Jassi Singh

How would you describe your store?

We’re a city store, on the main road into the West End of London, so it’s busy. We have specialised in having a great drinks and spirits selection, and I would like to have a store that sells only beer wines and spirits. We have also put in an electronics and phone accessories section, and are building the vape section nicely.

What sort of trading area do you operate in?

Lots of crackers around here [laughs]. Lots of shouting and doing bad things – lots of bad people. But also, obviously, lots of decent people who make it worthwhile. There are schools, a lot of passing trade, commuters on their way to the tube station – this is a very busy area. Really, I like it.

How long have you been a retailer?

For three years. Me and my brothers, we have another store in Southall, and our parents were storekeepers. We came here from Afghanistan eight years ago, none of the family is left there, now.

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

It’s a heavy job, that’s the worst, all the lifting and carrying. I always use cash and carries, and we are not part of a symbol group so we don’t get deliveries. If I go to buy the stuff myself I can see where it’s cheaper. Some things are delivered, but if I take delivery it will be more expensive. But mainly it’s the lifting and weight and heaviness that is worst! The best thing? Everything is best! But it is really the customers, the interactions and making customers happy.

What is the biggest challenge in retailing?

Always other shops are opening nearby – a Polish supermarket now just down the street. I had thought of buying that shop but the rent was expensive, £40k-plus. Really though, it’s the hours. I need a holiday! I need three holidays a year. I can go and then my brother can work here all the time.

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

Yes, of course. But you know, I give respect back: give respect, take respect. That is why so many come into my shop, If I show no respect they will go elsewhere, but if I do, they visit me and it is good between us.

Do you find the suppliers’ category management plans work?

No, not really, I don’t use them. I like to design my shop the way I imagine it. I have added electricals, a homeware and DIY section at the back so everything is here and is interesting for the customers. In the confectionery I stock a very nice range of American candy that is very popular. It is all very individual.

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

Definitely American stuff like the whiskies: I try to have the widest selection – and gins as well. I specialise in drinks, as people can see from the outside of the store. They can find the best and the rarest brands here so that it is very interesting for them. We have a great selection of vodkas. Energy drinks do very well, too  – and the vapes. Nicotine pouches now are selling very well, Velo and Nordic. I keep tobacco in a drawer back here, but it’s much more the vapes. Overall it’s about treats and different varieties to get customers returning.

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

Really, it’s what I see when I visit the cash and carry – and the trade press like yours.

How much do your sales depend on seasons and weather?

We are in the town, not the beach, but when it is hot we sell a lot more beers and soft drinks. In the winter whisky and vodka are our best-sellers! It is a sort of tourist area; there’s a lot of hotels, a lot of foreign visitors to London. And the football fans, because we are not far from Wembley – they can buy a lot of alcohol. The day when England played Italy –a lot of alcohol was sold!

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

At the moment we don’t get much trouble, and sometimes, if a bad person comes in here, I have the panic button, and the police come very quickly. Very quickly. On the rare occasions I have needed it, I’ve been very happy with the police response. I have good CCTV, too, with facial recognition, so I can see when trouble is coming, and that also keeps them away; they are already scared when they see the camera.

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

There is really no magic about it – it’s just to try and make customers happy and be personable. Nothing else. I give them what they want, but it is easy because they tell me what they want and I make sure I get it in stock for them. You get to know your customers’ wants very well that way.

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

Drinks are the fastest-selling. I can’t think of anything that doesn’t sell – I wouldn’t have it in the store. The electrical section is doing well.

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

I like it when reps come and give me offers, for example to buy one and get one free. Boost came and gave me a great offer, so now I buy their stuff. If more of them did that, I would be very happy!

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

No, not really, but that is mostly because I am always asking customers what kind of products they are looking for, and I always tell them that we have good deals and that I can get them what they want for a very good price. If they need a special item I can get them what they need. Like your wife asked if I could get Carlsberg Pilsner bottles, and now I stock it for her, keep it nice and chilled!

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

I would open another shop! In my community we all like to be busy and do hard work. Go to Dhamecha Cash and Carry – you don’t see white people, you don’t see black people. It’s all my people! [laughs].