Ridwan Patel talks to Asian Trader about his Brookfields News & Food store in Frenchgate Shopping Centre, Doncaster, and his successful combination of working both convenience and the leisure industry.
Ridwan Patel is a busy man, combining a career as an award-wining convenience store retailer with work as a studio instructor and freelance personal trainer in his spare time. It’s an unusual combination of roles but it’s clear that he finds both roles satisfying and rewarding uses of his time. Working two jobs certainly didn’t stop Ridwan from wining the Asian Trader Impulse Retailer of the Year 2015, and he sounds energetic and upbeat about the challenge involved.
“I am still involved in the leisure industry, I am a freelance personal trainer and a studio instructor in the evenings.” he says to Asian Trader, “People do often ask how I fit it in, but it is just organising and prioritising things and starting early.”
When he isn’t managing his fitness clients Ridwan operates the Brookfields News & Food store out of the Frenchgate Shopping Centre in Doncaster. The business is located in the centre of Doncaster between a train station and a bus station and has been open for ten years. There is a lot of passing trade coming through the area but the centre also provides a multi-storey car park so the store doesn’t have any of the usual problems high street retailers often face competing with supermarket car parking facilities.
“It’s a lovely bright store and we offer a great variety in terms of the impulse buys – anything from tobacco, confectionery, soft drinks, a wide range of fresh and chilled food,” Ridwan tells Asian Trader, “It’s great for people on the go really.”
Doncaster is a town that is developing quickly. According to Ridwan business has been helped by large numbers of nearby construction sites, with new offices being built close by. There is also a regeneration scheme going on not far away from the Frenchgate Shopping Centre, and both mean more passing trade for his store.
But one unwelcome change from the new developments that have started regenerating the town centre is that the area’s landlords have begun leasing their units to rivals of more established shops like Ridwan’s.
He complains that landlords don’t take into account that a convenience store is already nearby when signing off on leases. Their only priority is that their retail units must be fully let irrespective of who they are renting to. Ridwan says that his most serious competition is often coming not from multiple retailers such as Tesco or Sainsbury’s but from discount stores like Poundland.
“In the train station we have a GT News, there is a WH Smith there as well, there’s a Wilkinsons, and a Poundland and a 99p Store in the centre,” Ridwan tells Asian Trader, “But despite all this we are still on top of our game.”
To keep on top of things the store is now in the process of going through a re-modernisation scheme with Nisa. This happens every couple of years to make sure the business is kept up to date and doesn’t start looking too tired. With the unit being leased from the shopping centre fixed at 1200 sq. ft. the business can’t increase its floor space like some stores, so appearance, range and price become even more key to attracting customers’ attention.
“The competition is steep now, with a lot of discount stores opening up nearby,” Ridwan explains, “This is where Nisa comes in to help us really because we can challenge these discount stores up to a certain level.
Nisa offers a great variety of range and promotions.”
The store has been with Nisa for five years, Ridwan says, explaining they changed over because the Brookfield partners decided that they would get better value for money, better promotions and more variety there.
But he also liaises closely with the staff at his store’s major suppliers to boost sales. His shop offers promotions on all of its categories. On soft drinks for example there is a constant promotion on Lucozade at two for £2. On the store’s confectionery range the Cadbury confectionery range of chocolates is on offer at two for £1. The store also stocks a lot of multi-packs and take home goods on offer for £1 Ridwan says.
“We work closely with Cadbury and Mars to solve category management [issues]. We also work closely with Red Bull, Britvic and Danone Waters for planograms, merchandising the range,” he says, “We work very closely with all the industry’s leading suppliers. We liaise with area reps and with key account managers who look after our company.”
Ridwan keeps a vigilant eye across his ranges, telling us that he has a meeting with his store’s suppliers every quarter to provide sales figures, look at what is the best seller, and check what isn’t selling.
“We don’t want dead stock just sitting on the shelves. We tend to give more priority to the products that are selling more,” he tells Asian Trader, “Even the products that aren’t selling, we tend to push them a little bit more. If it doesn’t justify the space that we have allocated, we might just shrink it a little bit. If it is not worth keeping on the shelves we might de-list it and promote the stock and the range that sells more.”
Overall Ridwan says that despite the increased competition his store has been slightly ahead of its sales target over the last twelve months. The strongest overall section, with a weekly sales turnaround of £7,000, is the soft drinks department, but tobacco and confectionery have also been popular with customers. He thinks the unusually clement weather and discounting have helped keep things buoyant.
“Prior to [the] last [financial] year sales were slightly on the down.
Last year we had a good year and this [financial] year so far we are on target. The milder weather has been helping get people out,” he explains, “It doesn’t help when it is the busiest time of the year and people are snowed in. It affects the retailers, people are shopping more online. At the same time people do like to come out, and we had a really good Black Friday weekend. The town centre was heaving. We had a good one in 2014 as well.”
Disucssing issues like Sunday Trading or the National Living Wage that other readers are worried about, Ridwan seems to think that they will not affect his business.
He says his location inside a shopping centre means all his neighbours are sticking to the 10am to 4pm opening times they presently operate under, so nothing will change for his store if Sunday trading laws are relaxed as the government has proposed.
Ridwan also judges there are pros and cons to the upcoming National Living Wage, saying that while it is going to hit the small businesses and lead to them cutting the hours of staff, it is also going to get more people inclined to go into work. Ultimately this will be good for his business because more people will be out shopping near him.
However one area he had strong views on was business rates for small businesses, a feeling shared by many other retailers. The government is to review the issue later on this year.
“They need to do something about this in terms of the rates because it’s really affecting not just the small businesses, any business,” he says, “High rates are something they need to look into. They are too high in this area.”