Mark Wingett reports on a retailer who is determined to make a name for himself in the retail circles of his city centre.

Counting heads in the morning is something you would usually associate with a teacher and not a would-be
c-store retailer.

But for Jas Singh, who runs the Nisa Metro in Leeds city centre, getting up early and totalling up the numbers of people passing the site he was interested in developing, was vital as part of his move to become a c-store owner.

“I had thought about taking on a c-store for some time. My family comes from a retailing background and some of them own c-stores. However, I didn’t want to plunge into anything, so when I eventually found this site about two and a half years ago, I used to come and watch the passing commuters to get a feel for numbers and the busiest times of the day. After I’d done this for a number of days I soon realised that the location would be perfect for a c-store.”

Located on one of the main roads for commuters entering Leeds city centre, near the central train station and surrounded by offices, all the store now needed was the right package to be put in place to take advantage of its potential.

Jas says: “I’d already made the decision that I’d join a symbol group because I believed it would be the best way to fully develop the store. However, it was again a case of taking my time before I decided which group had the best offer for the store and its location. I had visits from Premier and Londis but they didn’t really convince me that they had the right package to make an inner-city site work.”

At around the same time - fortunately for Jas - Nisa-Today’s was developing its Metro store package aimed at c-stores based in high streets and city centres.

Explains Jas: “I got invited to look around the first Metro store in Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire, and was very impressed with the product balance that had been achieved in-store, the company’s move toward chilled products and also its buying power,” explains Jas.
So with the decision to go with Nisa made, the next stage was to design the interior of the 1,600sq ft store - a process in which Jas made sure he had a key role to play.

He comments: “I had worked in Leeds for four years, making and delivering office furniture, and this gave me a good idea of where each section needed to be placed and fitted together to make the store reach its potential. I took advice from Nisa but it was my final call on what went where and next to what. Consumers don’t want to be confused when they walk through the door, so it’s a case of not over- complicating your offer.”

With the store just how Jas wanted it to be, it was now a case of waiting for the expected early-morning rush.
However, it didn’t turn out completely as Jas had planned. He explains: “We do get a lot of morning trade from people going to work, but it’s in the evenings that the store comes into its own. When I looked at the site before I took it on, the evenings were dead because people would get their evening meal or snack nearer their work and not pass by here. However, now they know we’re here, our sales of ready meals and snacks have really taken off. The thing we’ve had to make sure of is that availability stays the same throughout the day. With a chilled delivery every day from Nisa, we’re able to do that.”

As the store has taken off so has its reputation. Jas says: “A bonus about this location is that the area is being regenerated by the city council. In addition to the passing trade we already get, we are picking up custom from the new stores and companies moving into the area.”

It has led to extra requests from many of the nearby office workers for Jas to expand his offer to deliveries.
He continues: “At present I deliver sandwiches and a few snacks to one of the offices nearby, plus milk and newspapers to a few other buildings. We’ve also had other companies asking us about deliveries, so it’s something I’m interested in looking into, because I believe it would help to develop the store’s reputation in the area. However, you need to get your balance right and make sure you’re not taking resources away from the rest of the store.”

The need to give customers that extra something is not lost on Jas, who is already looking to expand the store to allow other ideas to be tried.

He says: “Expansion is key. At present I’m looking to increase the store to around 2,000sq ft. We’ll soon need a hot food section, which I think would really increase trade, particularly in the winter months, and I’m already looking to see what oven and display unit would work.

“I also believe that with all the trade we get in the evenings, a video and DVD section would work extrmely well.” While the expansion of the store is being planned, Jas is hoping to introduce what he describes as ‘a must have’ into his outlet.

He explains: “I’ve been trying to get a Lottery terminal in the store for ages and thankfully we’ve now finally been given the go ahead to get one installed in the middle of
October. For passing evening trade on Wednesdays and Saturdays, having a terminal is crucial. I’m
also very confident that incremental sales will pick up as a result of having a terminal in the shop. It’s inevitable really, isn’t it? Buy a Lottery ticket and make an impulse buy at the same time.”

As the the store has taken off, Jas and his staff have had to be on their guard against crime, but being situated in the city centre has helped in this respect.
Says Jas: “Fortunately we get very little crime in the store and surrounding area. We have CCTV installed but we’re located in a well lit and well patrolled area, which keeps a lot of undesirables away.”

What Jas describes as ‘a calculated gamble’ in getting the store off the ground looks like turning out to be a shrewd decision, with an average weekly turnover of £20,000 - and growing. He says: “I’m pleased my initial research and instinct about the store is paying off. Just by looking around the area, seeing the competition - a Marks & Spencer Simply Food store in the train station - and talking to people about the building of new offices, has contributed to making the store a success.”

Jas also credits the support he’s received from Nisa as playing a big part in making the store a success, and he hopes they’ll play a major role in the next stage of his growing retail empire.

He explains: “Nothing’s for certain yet, but I’m already looking for a suitable site on the other side of the city centre to open another Metro store. With the success of this one, I’m sure something similar could have the same impact elsewhere.”

But before that thought becomes a reality, Jas will be spending a few hours, maybe even days, doing that all important research and some more head counting.

Key facts

Location: Leeds city centre

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 7.30am-10pm,

Sundays 9am-9pm

Size: 1,600sq ft

Staff: Eight part-time

Points of interest: Deliveries of milk, newspapers, sandwiches and snacks to nearby offices on a daily basis.