Rishi Madhani has managed to breath new life into the family business thanks to a fresh fascia and a customer-focused approach

You can’t miss Today’s Stokenchurch in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. Its bold, bright red fascia screams out at locals to step inside and survey its goods. And they’re in for a treat when they do. Everything seems in perfect order: freshly baked bread is positioned at the end of an aisle, facing the entrance, so it’s one of the first products customers see and smell when they walk into the store. There’s no better visual cue to tempt the office workers to grab a roll for lunch.

There’s also a handsome range of soft drinks and crisps at the front of the store, while groceries and greetings cards are located at the back. It’s well thought out and easy to shop, with a second siting of baskets thoughtfully positioned in the middle of the store to encourage extra purchases.

But owner Rishi Madhani concedes that the store’s logical layout has come to fruition only in recent months as a result of joining the Today’s symbol group. “The store has been in my family since 1988. I helped out there as a kid, but then I went on to train as a studio engineer,” he explains. His parents decided to retire from running the store in 2006 and rented it out to a small independent group. But, unfortunately, the group struggled and the store ended up closing for nine months.

In 2007, Rishi decided to leave his engineering career and see if he could turn things around for the store. But his lack of retail experience meant that the store’s layout left a lot to be desired. The back half of the store, which has a raised floor, had previously been a post office and was sectioned off with a ramp.

Today’s Group retail development director Raj Krishan explains: “Rishi was reluctant to use the back half of the store because he didn’t think that customers would be willing to go that far into the shop, so he attempted to cram everything into the front.”

Rishi himself acknowledged that there was a serious problem with the arrangement. “People would ask if they were allowed up the ramp to the back end of the store!”

Back office work was equally problematic for the first-time retailer. “I got back in touch with the suppliers my parents had used, but that meant dealing with about 16 different firms it was too many and the amount of time spent on paperwork was ridiculous,” he says. “I wanted everything to be delivered and in my mind I knew I needed to join a symbol.

“We work closely with Thames cash & carry it is a family business just like us, so we have that connection. They are a member of the Today’s wholesale group so they told me about the group’s symbol offering.”

But it wasn’t a straightforward decision to join Today’s Rishi was only too aware of the risks at stake with choosing a lesser-known fascia. “I spent nine months looking at different symbols before I decided on Today’s. Neighbouring retailers asked me what on earth I was doing,” he grins. “With anything new on the market you’re going to be cautious, but there was also the excitement of being one of the first retailers to have the new Today’s fascia.”

The store underwent a refit and rebranding, and the store was relaunched as a Today’s in December 2010. Impulse favourites soft drinks, confectionery and food to go are now positioned at the front of store, while the back end is home to household staples such as wrapped bread and baked beans. “At first, I wasn’t too sure,” says Rishi. “But Raj convinced me it was worth a go, so we tried it and it works well it’s made the back of the store into a destination area.”

With the extra room created by fully utilising the back of the store, Rishi has been able to double the store’s biscuit fixture, while soft drinks can now afford multiple facings. “Before, we were constantly having to replenish the soft drinks and we still only used to sell 10 cases of Coke a week; now we sell double that,” beams Rishi.

Since he isn’t spending all his time at the cash & carry, Rishi has more time to get to know his customers and better understand their needs. “Two years ago, I sold only Newcastle Brown, London Pride and Speckled Hen ales,” says Rishi. But, realising that there was room for improvement, he began researching the locals’ tastes.

“I went round to all the pubs nearby and asked what ales and beers sold well. I also spoke to ale drinkers to find out more about their drinking habits. I then asked a local brewery in Marlow, called Rebellion, if they could supply me with their bottled range and I ran a tasting evening at the store.”

It’s not just ale drinkers who are getting the personal treatment. “It takes nothing to spend time with customers,” says Rishi. “Yes, you have a chat, but you also get five minutes of feedback.” Talking to customers has also led to the stocking of paneer cheese, which is popular with the store’s vegetarian customers; Galtee cheese and black and white puddings for its Irish contingent; and Polish sausage too.

shop profile Today’s Stokenchurch, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire Opening hours: 7am til 9pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 9pm Saturday and Sunday 
Size: 1,500sq ft 
Staff: 10 
Additional service: in-store bakery, dry-cleaning, DVD rental, hot food to go, home delivery, PayPoint Opinion poll

The shop also has a customer suggestion box placed prominently on the counter. Rishi incentivises people to get involved by asking them to leave their email address on the suggestion slip, which is then entered into a raffle to win a bottle of Champagne.

In fact, the store’s dedication to meeting people’s needs goes far beyond the four walls of the shop. Rishi recently gave a talk for pupils at the local primary school to teach them about pricing and selling produce. “I felt privileged to be able to do that and really make a link with the community,” he says.

The store sponsors the annual village fête and dog show, and manages a stall at the event. Says Rishi: “The fête and show attract 4,000 people, and having a stall there gets the attention of people who haven’t actually been to the shop itself.”

Spurred on by the success of the fête, the store now takes part in a beer and wine festival. too. “Last year we set up a stall with wines, cheeses and freshly baked bread,” says Rishi. “A lot of people didn’t know we sold such a strong range of wine and we saw an 18% uplift in wine sales over the weeks following the festival.”

In the few years that Rishi has been running the shop he has boosted customer numbers from 450 to 600 a day. And he’s not stopping there: “Our home delivery is at the early stages at the moment, but I want to take it beyond a gesture for the elderly and into a full online service.”

He also plans to expand his food-to-go offering with an in-store sandwich outlet and deli, but not before he’s fully researched the concept and found out exactly what his customers think. “I’d love to do so much more, but you can’t run before you can walk,” he says. “First and foremost, listen to your customers before you act and then you’ll know you’re making changes for the right reasons.”