It may have taken this retailing duo 15 years to make the leap to a second store, but it's one worth the wait, as Rich Airey discovers

Being on busy Tower Bridge Road, within spitting distance one of the capital's most famous landmarks, isn't a bad starting point when it comes to setting up a new store.
But husband and wife team Raj and Mano Sivanesan know they can't simply rely on their store's prime location for success.
The couple joined the Red Orange buying group three years ago and have tasted success for the past 15 years at their nearby Shad Thames store, but they're now applying the finishing touches to a new-build store.
The Fine Life Shopper has, in fact, been open and trading steadily for three months, but Raj expects sales to rocket once the new deli counter and fascia are complete and the store gets its official opening in the next couple of weeks.
It's located on the site of the former Sarsons vinegar factory, with short-term lets above and surrounded by plenty of development in the nearby up-and-coming Bermondsey Street.
"It was quiet at first, but we've already got some loyal customers and definitely expect trade to pick up when everything is finished and as the area around the store develops," says Raj. "When the fascia is properly lit it will illuminate the front of the store and draw customers in. More people are getting used to the fact we're here and we'll be a lot more visible. The store already looks good, but when everything is finished and is performing as a whole it should make a big difference."
Raj explains that the store's busiest time of day is currently 5-8pm. He's confident, however, that the afternoon lull will come to an end once shoppers notice the range of services the store offers.
A plush deli counter has been installed and should be running fully soon. It will offer hot and cold food to go including made-to-order sandwiches as well as fresh salads.
Other services offered include an ATM machine and Raj is keen to offer the lottery - he's placed a request with Camelot. There's also a comprehensive magazine section, which Raj says he's learnt how to properly compile through years of working with John Menzies at his first store, and there's a well-stocked alcohol and fresh food chiller.
"The deli will help create a point of difference to other stores in the area and if it takes off, which we expect it to, then I'll think of putting in some tables and chairs and creating a small café section where customers can relax with a cup of coffee and a slice of cake," says Raj.
Raj has the advantage of plenty of room to play with at his close to 4,000sq ft store. There's even space for a gondola end of pots, pans and wine glasses as well as a standalone display of socks. And while the space is well used, it's clear from the bright and spacious feel that the overall shopping experience is high on Raj's agenda. "I think customers like the store because it has wide aisles and is brightly lit," he says.
But he's also quick to point out that he knows the look of a store means nothing if customers can't get hold of the products they want. "We get a great deal through Red Orange, which means we can offer a good range of products, including chilled and frozen," he says. "The aim is to get the cheapest deal possible and then pass on the advantage to our customers by offering cheap prices. Lots of our customers will comment on how the prices on a number of products, including milk, are actually a lot more competitive than the supermarkets'."
"I purchase all I can through Red Orange, including bake-off products, and then I can go to other suppliers to top up on some of the more specialist lines."
These additional products include a small section of snack lines from Brighton-based Infinity Foods and organic beers from Wilds brewery in Hertfordshire.
"Organic food is very popular and we like to support as many other small businesses as we can by stocking a few different lines and we try to stock local produce when we can.
"I've also learnt that promotions really do work. You can see the benefits instantly. I've always been willing to try promotions, but I wasn't quite aware of how big an affect they can have on sales."

trolley dash

The above-average size of the store is the reason why the couple have decided to offer customers the option of collecting a trolley at the entrance. "The trolleys helps customers who want to get a more than just a basket load and it helps increase the average customer spend. I also dot baskets around for customers who don't pick one up at the start of their shop, but then end up walking around with armfuls of products."
Before becoming a retailer, Raj worked as an engineer both in the UK and abroad and stook the step into retailing as a back-up. "I wanted to have a second string to my bow," he says. "I then found the store was taking up more of my time so I decided I needed to go full time."
Raj and Mano have worked with a number of retail groups through their 15 years as retailers. "We've explored a number of ways of running the store," he says. "At first we were totally independent and made regular visits to the cash and carry, but this was quite hard with no experience as retailers so we joined Costcutter before switching to Londis and then back to Costcutter again. I then found out that Costcutter was planning on opening another store very close to mine and wasn't happy about that, so we pulled out again!"
Raj says he's confident they've now found the right balance with Red Orange, where they can retain their independence but also have the advantage of being able to negotiate a better deal through Nisa for about £50 a week.
His mix of products is helping to draw a complete range of customers at the new store, but he's yet to see the celebrity custom his Shad Thames business currently enjoys. A regular customer there is Clive James and, interestingly, Marks & Spencer boss Stuart Rose.
"I get to speak to Stuart a bit," says Raj. "He's a nice man and although on one hand he's taking quite a bit of money from me from M&S' Simply Food store at London Bridge, at least he's offsetting some of that by shopping at my store!"
Raj realises the important role technology must play in the running of a modern c-store. He's currently in the process of linking both stores up to the same Point Four epos system.
"Linking the two stores together will make life easier," he says. "We're also going to be installing Point Four's digital media screens, which will help finance the installation of the new equipment through advertising. It will also add to the modern feel of the store."
Raj believes one of the hardest parts of running a c-store is getting the right staff. He employs six at the new store and has 14 at the Shad Thames store. He explains: "I've got a very good core of staff who know how things should be done. The staff are very important as they are the ones who make everything happen."
Another difficulty is managing the long opening hours. The Fine Food Shopper opens 7am-11pm, Monday to Saturday, and a few hours on Sunday too. Says Raj: "It can be quite hard having such long opening hours, but that's very important for a convenience store. People want to be able to call on us at all hours of the day. They expect to find a store where they can nip in quickly to stock up on groceries. We're not here for our convenience, but theirs."
Next on the agenda for Raj is to update his popular Shad Thames store. "My first store is still going really well, but when everything is up and running properly here I know I'll have to pay it a bit of attention. It's looking a bit tired and is due for a refit soon. That's the next plan."
Raj adds that he's always willing to try something new. "We're constantly monitoring sales and switching things around," he explains. "It's a case of trial and error and being willing to change. It's important when you're deciding how to develop the business that you listen to customers. It's vital to have a good rapport with them as they're the ones who know what they want."