Known to customers as Peter, Gurmail Singh Dhesi was introduced to retail at an early age. "From about the age of 10 I helped out at our family store in Royston on weekends, after school and in the holidays just shelf stacking and keeping the store tidy," he says.

Having left school at 16, he tried his hand at warehouse work in a cash & carry in Baldock, Hertfordshire, that the Dhesis owned in partnership with another family. "My parents encouraged me to continue with my education, but I already knew that I wanted a career in retail, so I worked at the cash & carry for two years doing deliveries and moving stock around, and I also helped out at our family-owned Costcutter store in Watford."

In 1991 Gurmail's dad Gurnam and uncle Shangara bought a store in Welwyn Garden City store and seven years later Gurmail became manager. "It was a Londis when we first took it on and we went independent, then I took over management of the store and we joined Costcutter," he says.

He explains that his reason for joining the group was to ensure that he was able to rival the rock bottom prices that supermarkets were able to offer. "The Londis retail prices were too expensive for us to compete with the mults, and so was Spar. Costcutter was more in line with the big boys," he says.

True to his word, Gurmail is big on bargains. From 'extra free' to 'half price', and multibuys, every category screams out deals to its customers. "We have a Tesco a mile away and there's a Sainsbury in town, but we're not really affected by them as our prices are low," grins Gurmail.

But getting the prices right is only part of what makes a great store. And although he had a wealth of experience working in convenience retail, managing a store of his own turned out to be a little harder than Gurmail thought. "Every year there seem to be more events to celebrate, so I had to get used to planning ahead for things like Bonfire night where I need to stock up on marshmallows," he says. "Once I forgot about pancake day that was a nightmare! I had to rush out to the cash and carry on a Tuesday morning and stock up!"

Thankfully, he saw the error of his ways early on. "You have so many things to remember as a retailer, so you quickly learn that you can't afford to leave things to the last minute," he says. "Now that I've been doing this for a while, I automatically know which events are coming up and when, so I'm much more organised."

The same cannot be said of his customers. "Some of them come in four or five times a day," he says. "It seems that the closer they live, the more they seem to forget things!"

But Gurmail doesn't mind one bit. "Talking with people is the best part of the job. I'm always hopping on the till and I know a lot of the customers by name," he says.

In fact, he gets on with his customers so well that he's even willing to help them out. "I don't give credit on cigarettes and alcohol, but if someone's hungry then I'll lend them a tenner," says the big-hearted retailer.

His generosity also stretches to the newsagent located next door. "We do have requests for papers and lottery, but we don't want to upset the neighbours," he says. "All the shop next door really does is papers and lottery, so we don't want to take that away from them."

He might not take a hard-nosed approach to business, but his good nature doesn't seem to be holding him back. In fact, he is so determined to take the store forward that he recently signed up to the group's New Era trading terms, which tailors marketing activity and promotions to each store. "This also means we get to be one of the first stores to trial new products and initiatives," Gurmail explains.

The store already had a good relationship with its suppliers, but joining New Era has helped to further cement these ties. "Walkers run trials here regularly and Cadbury sent some staff here earlier this month to help out in-store packing bags to promote a Walk to Work day," he says. "Customers love stuff like that as it adds a bit of interest."

Gurmail is also keeping customers on their toes by making some changes in-store. "We've already refitted the shop twice and we're working with Costcutter to do another if we don't change the layout every so often, the customers get bored," he claims.

"I'll probably look to spend £50-60,000 on the next refit. We're out of space for ready meals and fresh meats, so we'll get an extra chiller for those. And I want to have doors in the side of the store to make the most of its corner location."

With so much going on, Gurmail finds time is in short supply. Apart from Tuesdays and Fridays when he leaves early to spend time with his family, the day is extremely long. But Gurmail isn't bitter: "I was awake until 12 last night doing paperwork and then up at six this morning and back in the store, but that's all part of the job," he says.

"I've got a good team and Costcutter is really supportive. I'd do this any day over a desk job."

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