In a town overrun with retailers, Alkesh Gadher is always looking at ways to ensure that his store is noticed by the locals. Sarah Britton reports

Unlike its neighbours whose windows are crammed with posters, the store front of Best-One Isleworth in Middlesex stands bare and proud, with just a few tasteful foodie images to whet the appetites of passers-by.

"We joined Best-One last year because of the increasing need to differentiate ourselves," explains owner Alkesh Gadher. "We had been with Spar nine years prior to that, but in the past three years a lot of competition arrived on the scene and we needed to take action. A Nisa Local, Costcutter, Tesco Express, Londis and three independent stores all cropped up within a short distance of the store.

"We needed an identity that would help make us stand out and, as well professional signage, Best-One offered strong promotions and pricemarked goods with decent margins."

As as well as those suggested by his symbol group, Alkesh also likes to experiment with his own deals. "Best-One runs three-weekly promotional cycles, but if a product is selling really well then I might keep it on offer for another month," he says. "I also set up my own promotions. We offer deals on everyday essentials such as sugar, milk, tea and baked beans. The thinking behind it is that we're not a weekly shop destination, but rather a top-up shop, so it just encourages people to spend a little more with us."

In addition to competitive pricing, Alkesh uses a somewhat unorthodox store layout to get people to buy more. "We don't keep the soft drinks next to sandwiches. We put them round the back of the store so that people have to walk that bit further," he explains.

And despite being advised that two racks of greetings cards would be sufficient, Alkesh insists that 11m -worth of shelving, plus a few freestanding display units, are essential. "There are no card shops nearby and our store is adjoined to my other business a four-counter post office so I think it would be a missed opportunity not to stock plenty of cards."

He adds: "Although planograms are important, each store has to do what's best for its individual situation."

And his unconventional approach appears to be working. "Our customers like a fresh approach," he says. "We move fixtures around a lot. I recently moved the lottery stand from the news section to the impulse section it keeps customers interested."

The store's scratchcard selection is also revised regularly. "Scratchcards do very well for us people love the idea of becoming millionaires on the spot," laughs Alkesh. "We have a 12-pocket dispenser that's always kept full to the brim and we change the games regularly to keep it exciting."

Another initiative Alkesh has introduced to keep customers stimulated is a TV screen. "One of my customers offered me the chance to get involved with Locality.TV and I thought it sounded a good idea." The basic concept is that the screens are installed for free and display adverts for local businesses, as well as trivia on the local area. Although Alkesh doesn't get paid by the advertisers, he does get a free welcome screen as part of the deal and the screens provide entertainment for queuing customers. "Customers like it because it looks modern and smart, and it really helps to give the store a community feel as it's only local businesses being advertised."

Community at its core

The sense of community runs through the very veins of the store, with Alkesh and his family having lived in the area for many years. "My father bought the store 33 years ago and I've been here for 27 years, so I know plenty of the customers on a first-name basis. In the past we've helped the community by donating to raffles and sponsoring local football and rugby teams, but now we've taken it to the next level," says Alkesh. "About a year-and-a-half ago we started supplying training aids to Adasa, a football training school for kids aged between five and 14. We give them footballs, goals, bibs and kits. It's great to encourage kids to get involved with something like this and what's nice about the centre is that everyone is welcome. It's really satisfying to know that we're doing something worthwhile."

The shop also makes donations to the local hospital and is hoping to work with a mother and toddler playgroup called Kidzone. "We found out that a few of our customers belonged to the playgroup and we wanted to get involved, so we're in discussions with them now about what we can do in terms of providing things like toys and craft materials.

"As an independent retailer, you need the community to recognise you, and you need to recognise them," Alkesh points out.

Considering the effort Alkesh has gone to to integrate himself into the community, you'd think he'd be keen for his offspring to carry on his good work. Not so.

"In the past, people have always wanted to pass on the family business, but I won't really be upset if my son and daughter don't want to take on the business. There are so many opportunities for young people today and I'll support them in whatever they choose to do," says Alkesh.

In fact, he is more than happy to leave his manager to run the store. "In the future, this store will be completely under management. My store manager, Sukhbinder, has been working here for 16 years so I think he's ready!"

Delegating duties

Shop profile
Best-One Isleworth, Middlesex 

Size: 1,580sq ft 

Staff: three part-time, four full-time 

Opening hours: 7am-9pm Sunday-Thursday, 7am-10pm Friday and Saturday 

Additional services: Post office, lottery, photocopier, mobile top-ups, freshly baked goods
He explains that his plan for taking the business forward has always focused on training up staff to manage the store. "The shop was family run until 1995, but I started pushing for things to change. There are huge challenges for retailers in terms of red tape and competition from the mults. You need to keep on top of it all, so I make a point of delegating a lot of the shopfloor work.

"Even though I learnt the art of retailing from my parents, I never wanted to spend as many hours as they did in the store."

He explains that he used to work from 8am till 7pm, with Sunday afternoons being his only time off, but this has dropped dramatically since he started entrusting his staff with extra duties. "I also delegate some of the back office work, such as cashing up and ordering. You need to let staff know that you trust them by giving them responsibility. They work much better when they know that you have faith in them, and it's important for me to have quality time away from the shop."

His modern approach is clearly doing the trick as the shop has just been voted Best-One National Winner at the Bestway Retail Development Awards. "We would never have won this without the hard work that the staff put in. This award is a reflection of what a good job they do," he says modestly.

The gleaming silver trophy has pride of place behind the counter, where it is joined by a number of other award certificates.

"We put all our awards out on display as it gives staff pride in what they do and lets customers know that we're not just any old store," says Alkesh. "In today's retailing environment you have to make things happen."