C-Store tracks Londis retailer Sunder Sander on his mission to set up a second store

Ever wondered about opening a second store? Could you cope with the trials and tribulations? In our latest series, Our Store, we’ll follow Sunder Sandher on his path to running his second store in Headington, Oxford.

C-Store will shadow Sunder as he takes on local competition, engages with customers, examines his ranges, and works with key suppliers to make the business a success.

The 900sq ft store, perched on the corner of a busy high street, near Oxford Brookes University, Radcliffe Hospital and a number of primary and secondary schools, is in an area that boasts an eclectic mix of residents, office workers, students and school kids. “If your store is in a great location, then you can do the rest,” says Sunder.

He may have only just opened the store last month, but he has already overcome numerous hurdles to get this far. The first was his own mind-set. With three decades in retail and a successful Londis store in Leamington Spa, you might think he was more than qualified to open another store, but even the most experienced retailers can have doubts.

“I was in my comfort zone, thinking ‘I can’t do that - I can’t open a second store’,” explains Sunder. “But I went to a seminar where the opportunities for buying a second store were discussed and the more I thought about, the more positive I felt.”

“I was in my comfort zone, thinking ‘I can’t do that - I can’t open a second store”

He first announced plans to buy the Headington store back in July 2011. The Londis unit had been closed since February after the previous owner was fined thousands for employing immigrant workers illegally, and Sunder had his work cut out trying to get things up and running.

Initially, he had hoped to open in January, but a power supply issue meant weeks of form-filling and phone calls as various boxes were ticked. Sunder explains: “Because the building had been empty for more than three months, I needed a certificate to prove that the electrics were safe before the supplier would provide power. I’d recruited staff and obtained an alcohol licence, but couldn’t stock the store because it had no electricity!”

Once a power supply had been secured, there was a race against the clock to get shelves filled. “It took 14 days to stock the shop. My key suppliers - Britvic, Cadbury and Cuisine de France - helped out, but it was a rush. Now it’s a case of fine-tuning.”

While his existing industry knowledge is useful, it certainly isn’t a case of taking the Leamington Spa model as the basis for the Headington store. “The grocery category isn’t going as well as I’d thought. It’s much stronger in my other store because of its neighbourhood location. Here impulse purchases are much more in demand.”

However, making mistakes is all part of the learning process, and Sunder is willing to try out different ideas. Fresh food is an area he is looking to develop. “Fresh is the gap where small stores are missing out, and Londis is helping me to provide a strong offering.”

Judging by his competitors - a Waitrose and a Co-op - Sunder believes that there could well be a market for local produce, too. “Every third week there is a farmers’ market in town. As a trial, I’ve said to a couple of suppliers that we’ll take on anything they have left over. The fact there is a Waitrose over the road means there’s a premium market we can tap into.”

There are already success stories, though. Shoppers are proving less price-conscious on cigarettes compared with his Leamington Spa store. “I charged 10p more for cigarettes than in my other store, and was told I was the cheapest in Oxford, so I was able to put prices up and still be the cheapest in Headington!” he says.

Opening hours are another area under debate. “I was opening from 6am until 10pm, but I’ve changed to 7am til 11pm, as business does really well between 10-11pm when the Co-op is closed.” Previously, the store was open 24 hours, and Sunder is considering requests from locals for this to return. “The benefits would be that the bakery goods and newspapers would be ready first thing, but I’m not sure. I might push it to midnight for now.”

Now that the store is officially open - the launch party attended by MP Andrew Smith and suppliers was held on March 30 - ensuring that it remains at the forefront of shoppers’ minds is essential. Sunder is already on the ball in terms of marketing to students. “Almost every day I’m on the Oxford Brookes Facebook page. I’ve made sure I mention we’re open late.”

But considering that the store has only just opened, figures appear to be stacking up nicely. “The demographics report said that the shop could do £9,000 turnover. We’re already on £18,000 and that’s before we get our lottery terminal,” he beams.

Over the following months, we will track Sunder’s progress through diary instalments and chart his successes and disappointments and, most importantly, his learnings, as he develops his business. •

Working with suppliers

Sunder Sandher suppliers Britvic Gemma Tongue Kraft Richard Johnson

Britvic’s Gemma Tongue with Sunder and Kraft’s Richard Johnson

Suppliers Britvic, Kraft, Cuisine de France and Carlsberg have already been to see Sunder’s new store and are working with him to build sales.

Britvic customer development executive Gemma Tongue covers a sales area along the M40 so looks after Sunder’s other store in Leamington, and is examining how she can increase soft drinks sales at the Oxford outlet.

Her initial recommendation was to put the key soft drinks categories of cola and energy as prominently as possible at the front of the store, including installing a counter-top Pepsi Max chiller - one of only four in the country currently on trial - at the till area. She is also arranging for proceeds from Britvic sales to help smarten up nearby Florence Park as part of the company’s Transform Your Patch initiative.

She has suggested swapping the impulse products in the low-level island chiller with the fresh food in the taller wall unit, to allow a better category range and choice of pack sizes in the larger chiller.

Kraft sales executive Richard Johnson has already visited the store several times to re-merchandise the confectionery fixture to a category plan, and to hang up Cadbury Olympic-themed bunting for launch day.

Richard is sourcing a couple of Perspex display units for the front of the store, along with a dedicated Olympic unit featuring mascots and gold medals. He is also providing the store with a stand for pricemarked sharing bags.