Unilever’s customer trading director convenience, Mike Doole, put his back into the job when he spent the afternoon working at Naren Patel’s c-store at Egham, Surrey.

Mike Doole has worked his way up the career ladder over the last 16 years - first at Van den Burgh and then Unilever - and took the opportunity to work at Naren Patel’s Stop ‘n’ Shop outlet at Egham, Surrey, to remind himself of the hard graft and challenges of the shop floor.

He confirms: “Unilever’s retail customers have a tough job, and they need all the marketing support they can get from us suppliers to increase sales. This has given me a real sense of the day-to-day activities.”
Naren and his wife Panna do a lot of the work themselves. There are 12 part-time staff to help, but Naren is never far away from the shop floor and has lived and breathed retailing for the last 16 years.

The store itself serves a housing estate, with little passing trade, so Naren knows instinctively what his customers want and has a entrepreneurial flair when it comes to trying new things. He confirms: “I like to offer customers something a bit different. Gifts seemed to be a good category to get into - female customers like to window shop. They’d usually go into town for gifts so I stock a varied range so they can buy locally. I review them regularly - some sell and some don’t. The profit margins are also excellent.”

Naren is currently trying to drum up more frozen business. He says: “The sales generated by frozen products are small but I’m trying to build this up. It’s probably a lot to do with the fact there’s nowhere to display product prices. I do put a list on the freezer front but it gets ripped off by children.”

Mike is impressed by Naren’s frozen range and suggests better external signage to raise awareness. “Recent research has found that around a third of shoppers who come into c-stores don’t know frozen foods are for sale. Unilever has come up with new external signage to alert customers to frozen ranges,” says Mike.

“Frozen is a difficult category to merchandise. I’m going to go back and look at how Unilever can help small stores merchandise more effectively, and how they can display prices.”

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