The Cheemas' Costcutter business is a true family affair. Amy Lanning went to meet them

You come across a lot of family businesses in this industry, but it's rare to find six members of one family all working together. Baljit and Malcolm - mum and dad - have run the Costcutter c-store in Coventry, or Malcolm's Store as it's known locally, for 26 years. They operate the shop in partnership with two of their sons, Paul and Pinder, whose wives both work part time in the business as well.
The store is unrecognisable from its early days under the independent fascia of Malcolm's Store, and in its quarter of a century under the Cheema family's ownership, it has had three refits and been extended twice. The original store was 800sq ft - "it was like a house turned into a shop", says Baljit - and it's now 2,800sq ft. There was a butchers next door, and a garage the other side, and over the years, they've extended into both. "Every few years we've done a bit more to the store," says Malcolm. "We can't do any more now though." They signed to Costcutter 18 years ago when there were only 30 stores in the symbol's portfolio.
The latest refit, which has been an investment of £200,000, saw the store stripped back to the bare bones from top to bottom. "Trade had slowed down and become very stagnant so we knew we had to do something," says Malcolm. "Trading has changed - there's a different generation of shoppers now and they want
different things out of the shop and expect a lot more."
Costcutter had developed a new image and urged the Cheemas to do a full refit. "We went to see the new-look Costcutter store in Dronfield but it was much more of a c-store - we are between a c-store and a supermarket," explains Pinder. "So we looked at another show shop in Leicester and thought 'this is what we want'."
Determined to achieve perfection, the refit was almost a year in planning. "We wanted to make sure that it was done exactly how we wanted it," says Pinder. "We wanted the fruit and veg chiller to look like a fixture rather than a fridge - a shelf that keeps things cold. Eventually, Uno Shopfitting came back with what we wanted."
With such meticulous planning in place, the refit went like clockwork. "It took three weeks from start to finish with minimal disruption," says Pinder. "We emptied a third of the shop and moved the fruit and veg outside while Uno refitted that part, and worked around the rest. It took a couple of weeks to merchandise properly because we wanted it
looking right from day one.
"The plan Uno gave us was projected by the hour - and they stuck to every bit of it. They gave us a list of the things we were expected to do and by when - it worked really well. We never lost any customers - trade actually went up because people were coming in to nose around. Every day it looked a bit different and word got around. Even past customers that had moved away from the area have come back to look at the shop."
The refit has seen space for chilled double. All fresh produce is now chilled, along with all beers and white and rosé wines, which, says Malcolm, no one else in Coventry does. There's more space for news and magazines, and the grocery section has been opened up to make it more spacious and easier to shop. "Customers were saying that we have everything in the shop that they need, but not enough space to shop it," says Pinder. "We did a lot of research asking customers their opinions and watching the way they shopped during the planning year."
The refit was completed in March and trade went up by 15% immediately. "By the time customers have gone around the first aisle, they've already filled a basket so we've put more baskets around the shop,"
says Paul.
All the fruit juices are now chilled and sales have gone up by 50% as a result. Fresh produce sales are up 60%, fresh bread from Cuisine de France has increased five-fold, a five-shelf 'big night in' display for sharing and dipping lines has seen sales of those products rise by 100%, and the frozen fixture, with its more shopper friendly 'wall and well' cabinets, is now contributing 4% of total store sales, compared to 1% before.
They have a new supplier for fresh produce and flowers, and they're now offering a premium choice alongside the standard fare. "We wanted an M&S-style, upmarket feel. We've got a lot more 25-40 year olds who want different stuff so we've got more premium products in for them such as mange tout, aubergines, and upmarket sausages and bacon."
The store offers customers a range of in-store services with Paypoint, Payzone, the Lottery, and an ATM. "It's essential to have these services," says Malcolm. "About 70% of the people who come to pay their bills here buy something else as well. It's a free service as well and they haven't got to worry about running to the post office before it closes."
The family unveiled their new-look store with a party for the local community. "We had an open day to say thank you to all the customers who shopped here while we were refitting," says Baljit. "We had a free raffle and Costcutter laid on lots of prizes."
The open day wasn't the first time the Cheemas have done something special for their community - they host a Santa's grotto in the store at Christmas time. "All the money goes to the local cancer hospice and whatever the grotto raises, we match it," says Malcolm. "We sponsor a local football team and donate prizes for different charity events. This is a community shop and we like to keep our community happy."
This philosophy reflects their customer service ethos. "Customer relationships are so important," says Pinder. "We train all our staff to look after our customers. People have to pass a Sainsbury's and a Co-op on their way home from work so we have to make sure they come to us. So much competition has come to the area since we came here but we haven't lost any customers or trade. We're always trying to do things the supermarkets can't, such as offering chilled beers and wines."
Malcolm and the family say they are lucky with their staff. They have one dedicated to the chilled area Monday to Friday, and another on the bakery. They also have a lad that does all their driving to the cash & carry, and two students who work evenings. Baljit says it's important to have individuals responsible for key areas. "The girl who works on the chillers knows exactly what we've sold, checks all the dates regularly, and keeps the fridges clean."
The fact that most of the family are involved is what makes their business such a success. "It's all down to the family's hard work and effort," says Paul. "If you're a one-man band, you can't develop a business like this unless you have very good staff giving 100%. The whole refit has taken a lot of guts. If it doesn't work, we've shot ourselves in the foot. So we must make it a success."

Fact file

Store: Malcolm's Store - Costcutter, Coventry
Size: 2,800sq ft
Opening hours: 6.30am to 9.30pm Monday to Saturday, 7.30am to 9pm Sunday
Staff: four full time, three part time
Services: Paypoint, Payzone, National Lottery, cash machine, off licence
Product Lines: 6,500