After 34 years in the retail sector, Linda Sood, owner of Premier Falcon Convenience Store in Portsmouth, talks about how local community spirit helped her through a difficult period and why she decided to follow in her parent’s footsteps.

Asian Trader – Why did you decide to work in retail?
Linda Sood – When my parents came back from Kenya they bought a shop in Harlesden, north west London. They worked very hard and I didn’t see much of them because they were delivering orders until midnight. That shop was a little gold mine – although I was too young to be involved. When I was working for a union in the accounts department, my father said why don’t you set up a business. My husband Kamal and I bought a shop in Portsmouth which became very lucrative. I have no regrets. Our son Bobby has been working with us for four years and he will hopefully take over when I retire.

What is unique about your store?
It is important to make time to talk to your customers and address them by name. It is a special relationship. Sadly, we had a member of staff who stole a lot of money from us and the community support we got during the court case was fantastic. Some of the words of kindness even had me in tears. We like to provide a more personal service and work hard to stock products the supermarkets might not have. One man asked for us to get in Lovage – a mixer which comes in an old-fashioned bottled – we bought some in and have regulars for it now.

What are the main challenges you face?
Eroding margins and plain packaging on cigarettes are challenging. With cigarettes we are quite fortunate because we have an overhead gantry so you can see the branding on the top. In Australia, one of the biggest problems was giving the wrong packet to people so we must make sure we stay on top of that. Cigarette prices are rising and the margins are poor so we are focusing more on other products. I have been in the industry for 34 years now, and in my role as vice president of the NFRN, margins are something we hope to improve. I will become president in June, the second female president in the 99-year history of the federation.

What is your relationship like with Premier?
We have been with Premier for 18 years and I think it’s a very good concept. There is no outlay and our customers look forward to the deals every month. Before we wouldn’t be selling big boxes of washing powder or toilet rolls – which our regulars come in for now. Premier provide support and help you with merchandising. Going forward I think shops need to belong to a symbol group. Customers refer to us as Premier – and some even think I own all the Premiers in town!

Do you work closely with manufacturers on product ranging and merchandising?
Some manufactures have cut back on sending sales reps in, although the cigarette reps do visit regularly in the mornings. Coca-Cola send a rep in every quarter and Nestlé still call in on us and help with our merchandising. We also get a magazine from Premier which has news of all the latest products.

If you weren’t in retail, what would you be doing?
Sunning myself in Barbados! I might still be at the union. I really love what I do and once I’m at the shop, that’s it, it has my whole concentration. I’m worried about letting go, but hopefully our son will be there in the wings.