Middlesbrough retailer Bay Bashir has shown how community engagement, keen prices and customer service can win loyalty and boost sales

Middlesbrough retailer Bay Bashir exudes optimism, and with good reason, too. After all, sales are soaring, he’s just opened a third store, and he recently scooped the Responsible Retailing Award at this year’s Convenience Retail Awards.

For those searching for signs that the green shoots of economic recovery are not just visible in London and the South East, look no further than Belle Vue Convenience Store. Located on a neighbourhood precinct beside a main road into the town centre, Belle Vue is thriving, despite being no stranger to competition since opening in 1998. It took on a company-owned Spar store about 100 metres up the road, but rivalry on the precinct further increased when a Tesco Express opened more than five years ago.

Store facts

Belle Vue

Store size: 800sq ft

Weekly turnover: £50,000 including Lottery and PayPoint

Community engagement: Launched a successful alcohol proxy purchasing scheme, donates to local hospices and football team

Energy efficiency: LED lighting to be installed this year

At first sales slumped 15%, but then Bay made a decision which transformed his fortunes. “I joined Lifestyle Express and sales have gone from strength to strength,” he says. The Lifestyle Express cashback scheme, which earns Bay more than £1,000 annually on an extensive product range, has enabled him to compete with the local rivals on value. A Lifestyle Express value zone sits at the front of store, complemented by a product-specific display stand, which was offering three 568ml bottles of Bulmers for £5 when C-Store visited.

Sales for the three months until the end of March were 8% up year on year, while Bay enjoyed “the best Christmas for years”, with a 20% year-on-year sales uplift.

But to attribute the store’s turnaround to pricing alone is to view only one part of the full picture. It is the admirable work he does for the community that has earned Bay the loyalty of his customers, some of whom walk past the other two stores in order to shop with him.

A member of Middlesbrough Council’s licensing forum, Bay was one of the retailers who thought up an innovative scheme to tackle proxy purchasing of alcohol. The idea involved handing out plastic bags warning adults of the consequences of purchasing alcohol for under-18s. The scheme was introduced to about 30 retailers in 2012, with Bay appointed ambassador. “I was impressed the council took our ideas on board,” he says.

Bay promoted the scheme from the off, with the launch covered in the local press and on the council website, complete with photo of himself and a councillor. The initiative has since proven to be an “unbelievable success”, with incidents of proxy purchasing plummeting, according to Bay.

He makes sure the staff are selective with who they give the bags to. “We give them out to people you may suspect of proxy purchasing. We don’t give them out willy-nilly. Some customers get offended, but we reason with them calmly and address the situation,” he says. “It’s all about training the staff and raising awareness to customers of the consequences of proxy purchasing.”

Bay also carries out his own test purchasing three times a year through DOB Licensing and Security Consultants, in addition to the council’s scheme. Results have significantly improved, and not always in a predictable way. “The best thing was when someone failed, in 2010; that staff member is now one of the most vigilant members of staff when it comes to checking IDs.”

Participating in the licensing forum enables Bay to get an update on anti-social behaviour, too, which he believes has been alleviated by the bag scheme. Bay has also joined the council-run neighbourhood watch scheme. “The council is a great help. You get out what you put in,” he says.

Playing a lead role in the community is not just about taking responsibility - it is also about giving back, which Bay is equally proud of. When C-Store visited, he showed off the numerous thank-yous for his generous donations. Every year he raises money for two hospices through Easter and Christmas raffles. One received £1,450 last year alone through a combination of a raffle, donation tubs and £200 he received from a retailer award. Of course, the size of the donations also reflect customers’ generosity, which appears to be on a par with Bay’s. “A lot of customers will always buy raffle tickets to help out,” he says.

Not one to rest on his laurels, this year he’s thinking of raising money for the British Heart Foundation, introducing a World Cup raffle, and taking part in a sponsored event.

Bay is on the committee of Boro Rangers, the local football club, where he is as committed to the cause as any player. He has given £2,500 to the main team, and spent £600 on kit for the adults’ and children’s disabled teams. “The delight in the kids’ faces brings a tear to your eye,” he says. “Every Saturday morning I watch the kids play, some of them using walking frames. Their gratitude makes every penny worth it.” As for the parents’ reaction, he says they were a bit sceptical at first, but “then they realised that I just wanted to do it”.

Bay is also highly receptive to customer feedback, which he encourages through a notebook on the counter. “I’ll gladly take their wishes into account,” he says. True to his word, a number of locals requested Skol lager, which he subsequently listed as a permanent line following a trial. “Now it’s in an in-store promo area and we’ve seen great sales as a result,” he says. Another request was for an in-store ATM, which he duly installed. “People asked for it and really appreciated it when I put it in. Tesco and Spar have them but they’re external, so people feel more comfortable using mine.”

The needs of the elderly in the area aren’t overlooked either, as Bay provides free home deliveries for those in need, and staff will also pick up items from other shops for some of the recipients.

So it is clear why customers are loyal and sales are buoyant for Bay. “I put it down to keen prices, customer service, community engagement and a clean and tidy store, as well as an improving economy,” he states. Publicity for his latest achievement, the Responsible Retailing Award, has played a part, too. “There was an article in the local paper and sales soared that weekend. Our customers are really proud that it’s their store that won.”


Responsible Retailing Award

Bay’s leading role in an initiative to deter proxy purchasing with specially- branded carrier bags immediately grabbed the judges’ attention.

The bags, which are now used by 30 other stores in the area, carry bold warnings about the penalties associated with buying alcohol for minors. The bold and admirable move is really helping to educate the local community, young and old alike, of the risks of buying alcohol for a minor.

Judges were also won over by the fact that Bay (pictured alongside councillor Julia Rostron) also runs his own test purchasing scheme three times a year in partnership with DOB Licensing and Security Consultants, and Bay’s commitment to forging strong links at the local council.

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