Gaelle Walker meets the father-and-son team who aren’t afraid of moving into new territory
With what do you associate the name Churchill? Is it the great wartime leader? Perhaps the jovial nodding dog off the telly? Well, for some Glaswegians it’s probably the smiling faces of father and son retail entrepreneurs Jack and Shaun Marwaha.
For Jack (pictured right) and Shaun, retail means business. The duo, who own two Premier-branded Churchills stores and are in the throws of purchasing another couple, are already well on their way to achieving their goal of becoming a retail force to be reckoned with.
C-Store met the pair at their recently refurbished store on the city’s outskirts. Its position in a strict conservation area of the city means that the store has a smart black and silver livery instead of the standard yellow and purple Premier one. And, as we soon discovered, the colour of the fascia is just one of many differences which make this store unique.
For just 1,500sq ft, it contains a surprising amount of technical gadgetry and, according to 20-something son Shaun who has recently graduated with a degree in business and finance, it’s only just the start.
Churchills Convenience Store
Opening Times: Monday-Saturday 6am-10pm, Sunday 8am-10pm
Additional services: hot food and drinks to go, mobile top-ups, bill payments
“One of the great things about our partnership is that I have an in-depth knowledge of modern-day technology and finance, while dad has all the priceless retail experience, having been brought up in a retailing family. Together we can really take things forward, and technology will play a major role. We’re always on the lookout for cutting-edge ideas,” he says.
In addition to a flashy epos system, high-tech CCTV, and various photocopiers and fax machines, the store also boasts an impressive self-serve coffee machine of which even expert baristas would be proud.
Jack and Shaun are even planning to install a self-service till to improve speed of service at peak times. “Thanks to the supermarkets and other large retail operators, shoppers are now fairly au fait with the idea of self-service tills, and I don’t see why the concept wouldn’t work well here alongside traditional counter service,” explains Jack.
As well as a sprinkling of wealthy well-known locals (Robbie Coltrane is a regular) the store’s main customer base in week days are teenagers. The store is located at a busy crossroads, which also marks the halfway point between two large secondary schools (one is a posh school for girls, the other a big state institution with a high intake of sporty boys) and between the hours of 12 and 2pm pretty much the entire intake of both descends upon it to stock up on snacks.
Shaun says: “Kids today are so savvy when it comes to technology that they would love the idea of self-service tills, and if it means that they don’t have to queue inside for as long then that’s an added bonus.
“Of course, there is an element of risk with regards to shrinkage, but I feel that the benefits would outweigh those. In fact, we’d probably even end up saving money because we would only need to pay one person to work on the till rather than two,” he adds.
“We’d never go for entirely self-service, though, as we’d lose the personal touch which is so important,” points out Jack.
The store’s proximity to the city centre and beautiful botanical gardens also makes it a magnet for tourists, meaning that traditional treats are also big sellers alongside Mars Bars and cans of Coke. “One of the things that the tourists love is our Haggis Pizza,” laughs Jack. “They think it’s hilarious and we sell loads of them. Smoked salmon and Scottish Tablet [a more sugary version of fudge] are also big sellers, and although we could bump up the price on these novelty items we don’t as people are still pretty price-conscious.”
A neat little trick that the pair have introduced to bring in a few extra pounds is mini shopping trolleys. “They are only a little larger than the wire baskets that we offer, but the trolley format instantly makes shoppers think that this is a place where they can do a proper grocery shop rather than just a top-up. It’s also easier to wheel them around, meaning that people are more likely to throw in the extra item or two without hurting their arms,” adds Jack. It’s paid off as a £60 trolley is not unusual at the checkout.
Leaving the back door open after a fresh tray bake also draws people in, and the recent addition of smart chairs and tables outside the store and a fresh cakes offer has also helped bolster the bottom line.
“Knowing we have good people looking after things gives us confidence to focus our energies on new ideas”
On a roll
Sales now average £22,000 a week almost double that when the pair bought the store at the beginning of January. The unit, a former CTN, had been vacant for a year and was in a poor state when Jack snapped it up. With the right team, range and services, though, he turned it around in a matter of weeks. “We got the keys on January 12, started trading on the 25th and took £10,000 in the first week so not a bad start!” he laughs.
With the conversion of 35 new flats in a former Ministry Of Defence building just behind the store, sales are expected to double again. That’s great news considering they are investing significant sums in the opening of two new city centre sites. “The fact that we now have two stores trading really well gives us loads of confidence to take the next step,” adds Jack, “but we couldn’t go down this route without the help of our skilled managers. Knowing that we have good people looking after things gives us the confidence to focus our energies on new ideas,” he adds.
The pair divide their time between meetings and the stores, which have entirely different customer bases and local needs, and thanks to clever systems are able to have a good idea of what’s going on in each. “At any given time I can log into the store’s CCTV systems to see what’s going on, and I can also see sales data remotely,” says Jack.
Adds Shaun: “Our two stores are like chalk and cheese and it’s fascinating to see certain things fly off the shelves in one that we’d never dream of stocking in the other.”
Buckfast tonic wine is a case in point. “We sell hundreds of bottles of the stuff in our city centre store which is close to the university, but in affluent Kirklee we don’t stock it. Buying habits and trends evolve all the time, though, which is why it’s vital to talk to customers as much as possible, and take the utmost notice of any building developments or plans in your local area which might alter your customer base.”
One thing that Jack has drilled into his staff is the importance of good customer service. “With us not being in the store 24/7 it’s vital that service is top notch, and I don’t just mean saying hello and goodbye. I’ve instilled it in my staff to always go the extra mile when it comes to service, to always ask how a customer is at the till, and to treat every customer even the last of the day the same as the first.”
“We are well on our way to having a recognised and respected chain, whcih is what we’ve always dreamed about”
It’s a point which Jack is particularly sensitive about given a recent bad experience at a local car showroom. “I was out looking for a new car a couple of weeks ago and I saw one that I quite liked at a local dealers, which closed for business at 6pm. I was running late and arrived at 5.50pm only to be told by the surly young salesman to come back the next day as they were closing. Needless to say I never did, and he lost a sale. I never want a similar occurrence to happen in any of my stores.”
The pair hope to conclude the purchase of their two new sites in the next few weeks and kit them out in Premier colours before Christmas. “The Churchills name will also be prominent so that people know they are part of our estate and will want to come and shop with us,” adds Shaun. “We’re well on our way to having a recognised and respected chain, which is what we’ve always dreamed about.”
Well, with a name like Churchills, you wouldn’t expect anything less.