As a rundown area where crime is rife, Chapel Langley in Luton isn't the kind of area where kids play freely in the street. But one place parents are happy to send their children is Seymour Stores, where friendly retailer Davinder Sagou greets them with a smile.

During C-Store's interview, two young girls enter the store, clearly on an errand for their mum, and buy a packet of bacon. "The store is in the centre of a residential area and the local school is close by, so kids make up a fair quantity of the customer base," explains Davinder.

Within minutes, a little boy comes in and heads to the energy drinks display. The drinks are pricemarked at 23p each and he picks up three and hands them over to Davinder. But once he hears that the grand total is a mere 69p, he decides that his pocket money will afford him another two cans. Clearly maths isn't his strong point and, when he is told the new total is well over his £1 budget, he has to return one of the cans. "You have to be patient with kids they're always changing their minds about what they've bought and wanting to switch things!" laughs Davinder, "You just get used it."

And it's not just his customers who demand Davinder keeps a cool head. Last year the store's post office was one of the hundreds to be closed as part of the mass cull. "It was upsetting for my mum and dad because they spent most of their time working there," says Davinder.

But there was no time to mourn its loss because if they were to keep the business ticking over, then they needed to think fast.

Thankfully, Davinder had developed a knack for good decision-making in his previous retailing role. "Before I bought this store in 1999, I used to work in a shop called United News in Dunstable as a store assistant and later in a managerial position," he says. "The newsagents was close to the accident and emergency department of a hospital, so it was really busy and I got plenty of managerial training. A lot of the other staff there weren't confident tallying up weekly sales and stock, and making decisions, so I was often relied upon to take charge."

His exerience of working under pressure enabled Davinder to think on his feet when he found out the post office was to go. The first choice he had to make was whether to pay to keep the lottery terminal, which had been free as part of the post office package. Initially, he was tempted to let the terminal go, but he knew that would upset customers. "We considered leaving it for a year, but we'd have lost a lot of trade," he says. "Many people come in for lottery tickets, but end up buying extra items, so it was better to pay to keep it."

His decision to hang on to the lottery terminal and to install PayPoint ensured that the bulk of customers kept coming. He also decided to keep the envelopes and writing materials that were part of the post office offering, as people had got used to coming to the store for their stationery.

But Davinder knew that it would take more to make up for the lost post office business. "We'd always wanted to sell alcohol before now, but the store was full to the brim and we hadn't the space," he claims. "I realised that I could use the empty area where the post office had been as an off-licence," says Davinder.

He and his parents bit the bullet and applied for their personal licences, as well as a premises licence, and stocked the empty post office space with alcohol. He also renamed the store Seymour Stores and Off Licence so that customers knew what was on offer. "There have always been a lot of requests for alcohol, so we knew that the demand was there, and since we've opened the off-licence turnover has increased by 10%," he grins.

Although he is pleased to have utilised his old post office space, a lack of room within the rest of the store still poses a challenge. The shop measures just a few hundred square feet and each shelf is absolutely jam-packed with goods. There are cereal boxes piled up to the ceiling and jars upon jars of honeys, marmalades and chutneys, as well as a massive selection of snacks and confectionery, which is particularly popular with younger customers.

Future plans

"I have considered expanding the store, but in the current economic climate, it isn't really possible," says Davinder. "There are a few products that could really do with a couple of facings, but there just isn't the capacity."

And with space being so limited, knowing the right products to stock can be hard, particularly with fresh produce because of its short shelf-life. "If I buy something and it doesn't have a long date, then that can be problematic because you have to take a bit of a gamble as to whether or not you can sell it in time ," he admits.

But that's not to say that he is adverse to selling fresh products, and one item that sells particularly well is the samosa. Davinder's aunt runs her own food business and supplies the store with both meat and vegetable-based samosas. "They have been a great success," he says. "We keep them fresh and fry them as they go. They're very popular with everyone as they're convenient to eat on the go and a bit more interesting than a plain sandwich."

Davinder has also taken his chances with other more unusual products. "Even though we are quite restricted in our product choices, I still take risks," he says. "For example, I decided to introduce Polish bread a while back. I didn't know how well it would do, but we had an influx in customer demand so we gave it a go and sales have been steady.

"You have to make an effort to look out for more unusual products, otherwise you aren't inspiring customers to make those impulse purchases."

And while Davinder has honed decision-making into a fine art, his customers aren't always quite so clear-headed. The girls from earlier are back with their bacon and another shopping list apparently, mum wanted sausages.

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