Meet Harj Gill: Windmill Select & Save

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Harj Gill talks to Asian Trader about the evolution of his family’s Windmill Select & Save store over the last 30 years.

How did you start out in retailing?
My parents bought the store around 1980 and we’ve been in retailing for about 30 years. Me and my brothers grew up in the store – it was a natural progression for them to move into retail but I chose to go to college. When I found out college wasn’t really for me, I came back to the store full time, which was about 20 years ago now.

What are the biggest strengths of your store?
In the space of time we’ve had the shop, we’ve had three extensions and grown floor space from around 800sq ft to around 2,700sq ft. With the last extension, which took place around six years ago, we extended our chilled section from 3.75 metres to 9.75 metres, and also grew chilled alcohol from 3.75 metres to 9.75 metres. It was a big investment but it has been very handy to have. In the summer we do very well on chilled beers and rosé wine. Working with Nisa through Select & Save has also helped to improve our availability and offers.

How else do you stand out from local competition?
We have two schools nearby so we’re very big on confectionery, soft drinks and snacks. We run a lot of promotions offered to us every three weeks through Nisa but we also do our own deals as well. With the amount of pound shops around, it’s important that we stand out on value. We also do home deliveries for customers as well. We used to have three or four stores offering this in the village but now we’re the only ones still doing it. Customers can place orders by phone and it’s still an important part of our business.

How do you plan to improve your business this year?
We’re not huge on food to go – we’ve tried things over the course of the last 20 years such as slush machines and popcorn that haven’t really taken off – but that is something we’re looking to improve this year. We’ve also just done a review of our chilled range and we’re now working with a new meat supplier, so we’ll see how that goes. We’re also thinking about changing our coffee machine. We have a Nescafé & Go machine but we’re now looking at offering fresh bean coffee. And we’re also looking to extend our 1.5 metre £1 bay to three metres, as that has been going well. Retail is changing so fast and trends are changing all the time, and we need to keep up.

Do you work closely with manufacturers on product ranging and merchandising?
We work with the likes of Mars and Mondelez on confectionery and they have helped us with our range. It is useful, and we always take information from manufacturers on board. If I’m being honest, I don’t think we do enough with them, and that is something we were looking to focus on this year. We also work closely with our business development manager from Select & Save and we do our own range reviews twice a year, which helps us delist slower sellers.

What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of being an independent retailer?
The long hours and lack of holidays can be a challenge, and we’re facing confusion over TPD and tobacco legislation. That’s why we’re trying to make our e-cigarette range more prominent in the store. But we’re lucky in that we don’t have to worry too much about crime, as we’re located on a small estate that has a nice community feel to it. And watching the business grow from where it was to what it is today over the last 20 years has been rewarding. We’ve got quite a lot of positive feedback from customers about the work we’ve done.

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