Me and My Store: Steve Singh of Costcutter, Kirkheaton

In West Yorkshire, on the edge of the moors in a beautiful spot, Steve Singh runs a slightly supercharged village shop, getting involved with the community and enjoying every minute of it

Steve Singh

How would you describe your store?

We’ve in a lovely spot. We’ve extended a lot, so it’s probably 2000 sq ft now, a biggish village store. It was very basic when I took over,with basic hours, meaning it didn’t open till 11 o’clock! The brothers who had it came in when they pleased.

What sort of trading area do you operate in?

It’s a mixed area, about half council houses, and then private homes. Many have been there years, workers not commuters, and a number of pensioners. We’ve one primary school, and we’re half a mile from Morrison’s and Marks & Spencer with a Tesco Express a bit nearer.

How long have you been a retailer?

Before this store I had a small newsagent for five years in Lepton. Then I left to work in the prison service for a decade, and after that came here, where I’ve been for 20 years.

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

The best is good banter, sharing a sense of humour. I’ve built it up over the years with my customers and we enjoy a wind-up, whether it’s football or general joking. The worst thing is my deliveries not turning up on time and being short-delivered on stock. But there’s only so many drivers, so many trucks, so many hours in a day …

What is the biggest challenge in retailing?

People complaining it only costs such and such at the supermarket! But I’m a one-man band. I can only do what is possible at the prices I get. It’s no good getting something and making two pence on it. If people are educated they don’t moan, but others say, “Morrison’s are selling at £14 so why is yours £15?”

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

From the majority. If you can explain yourself to people, you’ll always do okay. I think I get respect because we’re a decent village store. I’m involved in the football, cricket and rugby teams, anything charity. Help your community wherever you can, and you’ll get it back.

Do you find the suppliers’ category management plans work?

I take advice from everyone, but no one knows your shop better than you and I spend 100 hours a week in it! These guys, the chocolate reps, the beer pot reps, they are bound to say that their product is the best.

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

Having a good variety of everything is best. Every store is different. Some might not sell any wines cheaper than £10, but I only get a handful of customers who want to spend over £5. Co-op has been a saving grace with Costcutter because they’ve been around a long time, their products are good and they’re great value.

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

Somebody will come in and ask if I have that new AU watermelon vodka. Then you’re straight on it. We’ve got a good half a dozen shops in the family, the majority on the Costcutter fascia, and my cousin Jaz in Sunderland, what he doesn’t know isn’t worth knowing, so I ask him!

How much do your sales depend on seasons and weather?

Seasons are massive. In a good summer your pop and ice cream are going to be great. In winter, if the weather is poor and people can’t get out, bread and milk are number one. My milk guy is a farmer and when we had bad weather not long ago he arrived on a tractor and trailer.

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

Yes, nut they’re stretched and resources are at an all-time low, and officers are retiring and not being replaced. But to put it bluntly, I try to run my store with an iron fist. We don’t have much shoplifting: my customers are locals and I’ve got good staff on duty.

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

Number one, customer service. Number two, good staff morale. Number three, make sure your store is welcoming and clean. And number four, pricing.

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

I can order anything online and it’s with me next day, so retailers have no excuse if they’re not enthusiastic and dedicated to their store. Make all the sections work by modernizing, keep things clean and tidy. I’m all over everywhere but a couple of staff are dedicated to different departments, one in charge of beers and one, pop.

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

Every supplier can have issues because we’re in a chain and if it breaks there’s a domino effect. But if you’re right with a supplier and you understand their problems, they’ll tell you the truth. Deliveries could be better, but you only need a driver to be stuck on a motorway.

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

Occasionally, when a new product comes out, you might have missed some of it. They’ll will always be available at some stage, but you always want to be the first in your area to stock it.

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

Have a bit more family time, because I work every minute of the day. I’ve always wanted to be a project manager so I could see how I’d cope and how my skills would benefit me elsewhere.