Having taken over the running of a store in Sevenoaks, Kent, just five weeks ago, Rush Theva and Navanja Rush know that making a good first impression could be the difference between success and failure. With this in mind, they have used an array of tactics to ensure that they hold on to existing customers, yet still create enough excitement to attract new faces.
Before the couple had even moved into the area, they were eager to let locals know that change was afoot. "I made a deal with the previous store owner that she could run down the stock, provided that there was a sign on the door alerting customers to the fact that the shop was going to be re-opening under new management," says Navanja. "It's really important to communicate with customers."
As the town of Sevenoaks already has a number of long-standing convenience stores, it was vital that Rush and Navanja carved out a distinct identity for themselves.
The couple are no strangers to doing this; they ran a Premier store in Brighton, East Sussex, before taking on their current venture.
They increased the Brighton store's weekly turnover from £2,000 to £12,000 in the space of three years, so it was hardly surprising that Booker was eager for the couple's new store to become part of the Premier group.
But they weren't convinced that the symbol group would be able to give them the wow factor. "Booker was very keen for us to have the new store as a Premier, but the shop down the road is a Premier," says Rush. "We didn't want to be associated with an existing store because we wanted locals to know that we were offering them something different."
The local newspaper, Sevenoaks Chronicle, also attempted to woo the couple. "It wanted to give us a branded fascia and canopy, but we're an independent store and we wanted individuality," says Navanja.
"There are three stores in the area with that same fascia, and we wanted to stand out. When you take over a store, you want everything to be different so that customers realise that the store is under new management."
Rush and Navanja were aware that the name of their store would play a vital role in customers' perceptions of what the business had to offer and so the couple were careful to make their shop name as inclusive as possible. "We'd never name a shop after ourselves, because that doesn't really apply to the community, whereas by naming it 7oaks Convenience Store, we are saying it is the people's store and the heart of the town," explains Navanja.
To help build on the store's unique identity, Rush set about designing a logo using specialised computer software. This is now displayed on the store's fascia, in the windows, on all store literature, as well as on staff T-shirts.
In another bid to differentiate the store from its competitors, Rush decided not cover the doors and windows with stickers and advertisements. But while the uncluttered appearance of the store was favourable, he didn't want to miss out on advertising, so he now scans local adverts onto his computer and scrolls them along a TV screen, which he displays in the shop window.
Even when the store is shut, the screen is left to run through the night, scrolling through adverts and also giving details of the store's opening hours. "There's a kebab shop next door that's open until 2am, so when people are waiting for their food they wander over to our store and have a look at the screen," says Rush. "That way, even when we're not open we're still capturing people's interest."
With the store set to go, the couple's next job was to spread the word to potential customers. Navanja designed leaflets which listed all the products and services that the store had to offer, as well as those that were still to come. "You can't wait for everything in a store to be done before you open up or you would lose too much business," she states. "But if you let customers know that you have plans in place then they at least know that this isn't the finished product."
She also enticed people into the store with news of current promotions and a £1 voucher. Aided by four-year-old son Rithik, she hand-delivered the leaflets to 800 homes in the area, and to great effect. "Lots of people have come in with the voucher, but they still can't actually believe that they are being given something for free, because most vouchers offer money off," says Navanja.
But Rush explains that the couple are, in fact, making money through the vouchers. "People end up spending loads more than the £1 they have been given," he says. "Some spend £15, so we're not losing any money by giving away a pound."
As well as bringing in sales, the vouchers have helped the couple to quickly build up a good relationship with customers. "It has made people trust us. We're giving them something free straight away and there are no restrictions on what they can buy with their voucher," says Rush.
Now that they have captured customers' attention, the couple have every intention of maintaining this momentum. Rush has designed a website through which he will encourage locals to interact with the store further. "People can register for home delivery if they live within a five-mile radius," he says. "In addition, we'll offer special promotions and vouchers."
Plans are in place to run a competition from the website to encourage suggestions for products that customers would like to see stocked. "We're going to get local people to tell us what else they want to see in-store and whichever product we choose, we'll give the person who suggested it a £100 voucher," says Rush.
"We won't give it all at once though; we'll give them £10 a week for the next 10 weeks. That means they'll be coming to the store regularly and will probably end up spending more than just their voucher."
The couple have already been encouraging customers to request products and have introduced a lot of new lines as a result of this. "From shoe polish to Café Crème cigars if someone requests something, I just ask them whether they are going to buy the product regularly, and if they are then we'll do our best to stock it," says Rush.
The duo are also keen to get reaction from customers on how their initiatives are going down. "It's important to be at the shop as much as possible because it enables you to get instant feedback on how people are reacting to the store," says Navanja. "If someone comes in the first time just to buy one product, and then comes back the next time with more money to do a bigger shop, you know that you're doing a good job."
And the figures speak for themselves. "For the first month our target turnover was £3,000 a week, as the original owners were turning over £2,500, but we were already doing £5,000 after just three weeks," says Rush.
"We've had loads of positive comments," he adds. "One lady told us if we keep going the way we are, we'll make millions!"