Uzair Ali took over his father-in-law’s 
already successful store last year and made it his own with a £35,000 refit

The 1,800sq ft convenience store on Watling Street in Motherwell had been refitted earlier that year, but when Uzair Ali bought the Nisa shop from his father-in-law, Akhtar, in July, he was determined to put his own stamp on it. “My father-in-law already owned another Nisa and it was too much for him to run both, so I sold the nearby Day Today store I had run for 10 years and bought this store from him,” he recounts.

So Uzair and wife Shama, who have two young children Yousaf and Zain, decided to invest £35,000 in refitting the store. Uzair claims that there was no question as to whether he would remain with Nisa. “I had worked here part-time before buying the store, so I knew what Nisa was like and I wanted to change,” he says. “For a larger store, Nisa would be ideal as they have lots of variety, but the order requirement was just too high for the size of the store. Our fresh produce is still provided by Nisa, though, as they have a good range.”

Having reviewed several symbol groups, he decided to go with Landmark Wholesale’s Lifestyle and became the first Lifestyle Extra store in Scotland. “Joining Landmark meant I didn’t need a minimum order, which has freed up my cash flow,” says Uzair, who is now supplied by Lifestyle member United Wholesale Group in Glasgow. “United runs promotions specific to our area, which really appeal to our customers.”

Store Facts

Store size: 1,800sq ft

Opening hours 7am-9pm Monday-Saturday, 8am-8pm Sunday

Staff: 4 full-time, 4 part-time

Refit spend: £35,000

Weekly turnover: £20,000

Additional services: ATM, Pay Point, Collect Plus, Lottery

Community engagement: Family fun day to celebrate re-opening, with children’s entertainment; free fruit for school kids on Mondays

With Lifestyle’s smart new grey fascia making a good first impression, Uzair also had plenty of other ideas on how to improve the store. “My father-in-law had carried out a major refit on the store last year, knocking down and rebuilding it. He installed new LED lights and tiled flooring. But I wanted to do things my own way.”

Uzair had noted a number of areas where he thought there was potential for growth. “We didn’t have enough space for dairy - just three metres - so we introduced another two metres,” he says. “And we only had one shelf of fruit and veg, whereas now we have two metres-worth.

“We invested in 13 metres of chillers in total, and three metres of new upright freezers, all supplied by Cooling Solutions. The new chillers have glass doors, whereas before they were open, so energy bills are lower and the temperature in-store is much more pleasant for staff and customers.”

He has increased the variety of sandwiches and lunchtime snacks, too. “We have an old people’s home beside the store, where about 100 staff are employed. Before, they’d come over for a bottle of juice; now they’ll buy their whole lunch here.”

The Lifestyle team also had ideas on how to boost sales. “We used to have 2ltr soft drinks near the entrance of the store, but we realised that they could go further back in the shop as people are prepared to look for them,” says Uzair. “So now they are by the alcohol to be used as mixers, and for parties. In their place, we’ve put two metres of Lifestyle own-brand products.”

He concedes that he needed a little convincing when it came to own-brand products. “We used to offer Today’s branded products in the old store, but they didn’t really sell and so I wasn’t keen to give own-brand products much space in this store. But the Lifestyle range is really good quality, and cheap, and the margins are good for us, too. You don’t expect it on many products these days, but we get 25-30%. I was really surprised to see how well they have done.”

Lifestyle also advised Uzair to ensure that staff understood the new direction the store was taking, and how they could help to offer customers a more bespoke service. “For example, when the counter isn’t too busy then we tell staff to go on the shopfloor and offer customers a basket,” he says. “Before, customers used to treat us as more of a corner shop. They’d just come in for two or three items and then be on their way. Now we have wheelie baskets and trolleys, too, and we have loads more space. We’ve made the first aisle wider, which makes the whole store seem more spacious, and we’ve added lots of new lines.”

By moving shelving around, Uzair claims that he and the Lifestyle team have created another six to eight metres of display space. “Before, there were two-and-a-half aisles, and then we had household items taking up two metres. We’ve now moved them to one side of the store and put them on back boards to save space, so we have three full aisles. The extra space has meant we were able to add an extra metre each to the biscuits and crisps categories, which means lots more additional lines.”

The store has also improved its household products offering by adding Lifestyle’s recommended core range products that weren’t being stocked previously.

Having more space has meant that the shop can accommodate three metres-worth of dedicated promotional bays. Uzair notes that this makes it easier for staff to manage, rather than having to change products within particular categories all the time. It’s also more eye-catching, which will hopefully lead to increased sales.

Having made so many big changes, Uzair is now keen to communicate the improvements to his customers, so marketing has become a key focus for the store. “Before, we weren’t delivering any leaflets, whereas now we are doing 2,000 leaflet drops every three weeks,” says Uzair. “Customers are coming in with their leaflets and asking about specific products, so we know they are working.”

Reaching out to the community is another key part of the shop’s strategy. “We had an opening day at the end of September where we ran one-day special deals,” says Uzair.

The event was supported by suppliers including Red Bull and AG Barr, which provided a bike for one lucky shopper to win. The first 50 customers through the door also received a bag for life packed with Lifestyle own-brand goods. “We had plenty of activities for kids, too, with a bouncy castle, facepainting, a magician and people dressed as cartoon characters,” he adds. “There are a lot of families in the area and word of mouth travels fast, so it’s really important to connect with local people.”

What’s more, as part of an ongoing scheme to draw attention to the shop’s wide range of fruit, and encourage healthy eating, the shop has reached out to the local primary school. “On Monday mornings, we have been giving free pieces of fruit and bottled water to local primary school children,” he says. “The school is just across the road from us and the kids tend to come in with their parents, so they’ll buy stuff, too. We advertise it on our Facebook page three or four days before to make people aware. The local community have given us really good feedback about it.”

However, developing the store and juggling family life has not been easy, concedes Uzair. “It was stressful at the time, but it has been worth it,” he says. “I feel great now that the refit is finished and business is going well.”

It’s early days, but Uzair is hopeful that the outlet’s £20,000 weekly turnover will grow 15-20% within the next year. With basket spend already on the up and the store steadily cementing its position as a community hub, we reckon it’s just a matter of time before he hits his goal.