Time management is an important skill to have in any walk of life, but especially so if you’re a convenience store owner who has to balance a huge number of tasks in a day. One of the biggest dilemmas is measuring up customer service against paperwork. Do you leave all of the invoices and bills to be dealt with when the store is closed, eating into your personal time, or do you risk distancing yourself from your customers by concentrating on the background work?

Atul Sodha, owner of Peverells Londis in Harefield, Middlesex, allowed to let us spend an average day with him to see how he deals with the daily pressures.

Atul’s tips for keeping calm
Don’t be afraid to delegate
 
“Doing everything in the store yourself is not a good idea. It’s important to trust your staff to do the everyday jobs in the store that will allow you time to enhance your business.”

View obstacles as challenges, not setbacks 

“Things will crop up every day that will keep you from your business. Sometimes I get frustrated by them, but I find it better to look for the solution straight away, rather than getting too annoyed.”

Have a focus for the day
 
“Early in the week I order the stock for the store and then midweek I focus on the store itself and finding where I can improve it. Then it’s the weekend and our busiest part of the week. This gives me a goal every day of the week and helps me to organise myself to achieve it.”
Up until last summer, Atul was spending as much time as possible in the store. However, in May 2007 he fell ill and was forced to spend several months away from his business, leading him to reassess priorities.

“Before I became sick, I would have been here from six in the morning until nine at night. I was probably averaging 80 hours a week and that took its toll,” he says. To cover for his absence, he hired extra staff and found that the new system worked well. “I kept the staff levels the same when I returned to work so that I could relax more and concentrate on enhancing the business.”

On an average day, Atul now comes in at nine and works until seven in the evening at the latest, trusting his staff to open and close up. He also delegates compiling of stock lists, although he does double-check everything before ordering.

Despite not being at his store as much, he insists that he doesn’t miss the old way of doing things. “There were some weeks I would be working up to 100 hours. These days I still do over 60, but this pace suits me better and is healthier for me.”

On the day of our visit, Atul is up against it from the offset. One of his staff can’t make it in so he’s a member down. Luckily, another employee agrees to stay on longer to help out.

“The first thing I do when I come in is to check the CCTV system and the sales for the previous night,” he explains. Atul uses the Londis Manager system, which allows him to check how many customers have been in, how much was taken by each till and what was sold.

The level of detail is impressive but the system’s not without its glitches. When checking through, Atul finds that a £24,000 stock order has been placed to head office. Something has clearly gone wrong.

After a call to the IT department, which takes another 10 minutes, the problem is located and the order is cancelled. This minor setback, or as Atul calls it “spanner”, is the first of many that occur throughout the day.

After the first problem, another call has to be placed to IT after the program can’t locate certain items. This sets Atul back another 20 minutes when he has other jobs to get on with. “Midweek is the perfect opportunity to work on customer service, make sure the store is tidy and give me the chance to look at other areas in the store,” he says.

Next Atul sets off to organise the finances at the bank. He tasks employees Rosemary and Indira to complete a stock-check on cigarettes and assures them he’ll be back in 10 minutes. More than an hour later, he returns after having to deal with a direct-debit problem. But he’s still smiling. “It’s those little spanners that people throw at you that take up your time,” he says. “But it’s part of the business. I can get annoyed or deal with it and move on to the next job.”

Although Atul spends more of his time in the back office with stock lists and ordering systems, he would prefer to be out front with the customers. “The best part of my day is interacting with the customers,” he claims. “I’d prefer to be out there, having banter with them, than in the back on the computer.”

Atul believes that his way of working is something that other store owners should look at. “Too often I hear of owners trying to do everything themselves, and this isn’t good for the long-term. I trust my staff to handle things in my absence and this allows me to get on with running the business.”
A not-so normal day for a c-store owner
9:00 Atul is in the store and the first thing he does is check the takings for the night before. He examines an order that a staff member drew up and has to investigate an error in the IT system.

10:00 He’s a staff member short so asks another employee, Rosemary, to stay later. However, a second ordering glitch sets Atul back and prevents him from going through the store to see where improvements can be made.

11:00 After finally sorting out his order, Atul takes a trip to the bank. A job that should take 10 minutes turns into a 45-minute debacle as a teller error leaves Atul standing at the counter.

12:00 Atul rushes back to the store so Rosemary can head home. He then goes through his order for suppliers and makes amendments. Going through it stockline by stockline is a slow process.

13:00 It’s lunch on the run while floating between the back office and the till. While Indira is on lunch, Atul mans the store on his own, still finding time to chat to customers.

14:00 A part-time member of staff comes in and this allows Atul to take his mother to hospital for a check-up and then home againp.

15:00 Back at the store, Atul again floats between the tills, paperwork and ordering stock. The three different tasks keep him busy and everything must be dropped when a customer comes in.

16:00 Yet more multi-tasking for Atul. Usually, there would be another member of staff in but they have returned to university and the other part-time evening employee can’t get in till later in the day. He continues to work the tills and check the shelves for low stock.

17:00 The second part-time staff member comes in and Atul is back to a full complement. He can now concentrate on organising for the next day. He finishes up at about 6pm, leaving his staff in charge of closing up for the night.

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