When Raaj Chandarana took over the family firm he set out to take his parents’ success to another level by putting his own stamp on the business
When a business has been in your family for 17 years, taking over its running can be a daunting prospect. This weight of responsibility was certainly felt by Raaj Chandarana, when he stepped into his father’s shoes at Tara’s News & Brindley Avenue Post Office in High Wycombe just over a year ago.
Although he grew up in the business, Raaj hadn’t worked at the store for several years and was well aware of the hard work his parents Kishor and Tara had put in to make the Premier business the hub of the community.
“The time was right for me to come back into the business and even though my dad is still around all the time to give advice, I took over the business to allow my parents the opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves more,” he says. “Even with all the time I spent in the store when I was younger, the amount of work that goes into running the business is astounding.”
Size: 622sq ft
Opening hours: 6.30am - 9pm
Services: Hot beverages to go, slush machine, post office, PayPoint, lottery
While his parents may have been confident that the Buckinghamshire business was in safe hands, Raaj set out to prove to the locals that the store was there for them, whichever family member was holding the reins. From the offset, Raaj put his stamp on the store through customer engagement.
He greets every customer by name and knows exactly what’s going on in their lives. “I want there to be an energy when customers come into the store,” he says. “That goes a long way with them. People enjoy the banter and respond to it. It helps build a relationship with them.”
As well as creating a better atmosphere for himself and his staff to work in, Raaj’s approach makes sound business sense. “I want to create a happy atmosphere in the store so that customers associate here with something good,” he says. “Then they’ll be more keen to come back and shop with us.”
It’s not just in person that this engagement takes place; Raaj is a fan of social media so the store is present on Facebook and Twitter, with regular updates posted to keep customers in the loop about what’s going on.
His strategy is obviously working, with weekly turnover up from £17,000 when Raaj took over to £22,000 a week now. “When I took over I was looking at how to grow the business massively, but I spoke to another retailer and he said that I should just focus on getting 10p more per sale and that it would grow from there, and that’s how it has worked,” he says.
Even though his father Kishor is on hand to offer advice, Raaj has learned a lot by networking and soaking up information from others in the industry. “I’ve spent a lot of time with other retailers, speaking with them and getting as much advice as possible,” he says. It’s a strategy that he recommends every retailer should follow: “It’s important for the industry to work together. There’s no point in sitting behind the counter with your arms folded and not willing to learn or talk to anyone. We can all learn from each other.”
One area Raaj has been picking up tips on is the product mix. He has introduced more lines and rejigged the categories to make the most of the 622sq ft of space available. “We have to make use of every inch of the store and get the most in,” he says. “There’s no room here for lines that don’t sell.”
As a community store, promotions play a big role in the store’s product mix and Tara’s News has dedicated plenty of space to offers across all categories, giving any multiple a run for their money.
Raaj also increased space for categories that appeal more to his customer base. “There’s a school nearby so we introduced more stationery lines in time for the new school year,” he says. “We made space for more note pads and pens that mums are looking for in a hurry. It also fits in nicely with our post office offering.”
With so many families in the area, Raaj decided to improve his home-baking offering and has moved it to a more central location in the store. “We had the home-baking goods in the same corner as the pet food, but realised that they weren’t in the best spot,” he explains. “We had our eggs near our bread display so we made space there as the products go together logically. Sales have really improved as a result.”
He’s also quick to catch on to the latest crazes, creating ‘Loomzland’ at his counter where younger customers can pick up every-thing Loomz related. Raaj also capitalised on this summer’s warm weather with a slush machine. “I had a hot dog machine which started great but then availability dropped off, so I replaced it with the slush machine. Sales were great in the hot weather and I expect will continue during term time.”
Not all Raaj’s ideas have paid off immediately, though. “We got e-cigarettes when they first came on the market, but none were really successful. However, we didn’t let that stop us and even though we were sceptical about them, we got some Vapesticks in. They have worked so well that we’re going to dedicate two shelves behind the counter to them.”
The move to increased sales also came under threat when competition appeared almost on his doorstep. An ethnic food store two doors down was taken over by a new owner who decided to apply for an alcohol licence, while at the same time extending his grocery range to take on Tara’s News.
Despite this move on his business, Raaj was undaunted and upped his game to keep customers coming back to him. “I spoke to customers and asked what they’d like to see in the store,” he says. “It was worth doing because our Asian customer base don’t want to buy their groceries from a store that prioritises alcohol, so I increased my world food range to suit these customers and this has really worked in my favour.”
Never content with the progress he’s made, Raaj has one eye on the future and is looking to extend the store and carry out a major refit. “We’re quite tight for space at the moment and we don’t have much capacity for storage, so almost everything that comes in goes right out on the shelves. Thankfully, Booker delivers up to six times a week so we can get smaller deliveries more often to manage the space better, but we need more space,” he says.
“We’re looking to extend to the back of the store which will give us more room. We’re also looking to alter the entrance of the store so that more people see it as they are driving past.”
With all this in store and Raaj at the helm, it seems the family firm is in good hands for another few decades to come.
Pulling in the crowds
Raaj is keen to foster a sense of community spirit through his store as he believes it not only helps the area but benefits businesses, too. “It creates a positive message for your customers and the wider community,” he says. “You become remembered for the events and good causes that you support, and that helps your standing in the local community, as well as making you the centre of the area.”
Last December Raaj held a ‘Let’s Make Disraeli Christmassy’ event at his store in aid of the Amber’s Wish charity, which was set up for a local girl who suffers from Infantile Batten Disease.
With support from Booker and manufacturers, Raaj and his team put a lot of work into the event to make sure it was a success. The event had a Santa’s grotto, Christmas tree, music and face-painting.
Their efforts paid off, attracting more than 3,000 people and raising a substantial amount of money.