Kent-based Nishi Patel has had a pretty full-on year so far. He refitted his Thamesmead outlet in spring and embarked on a new store opening in nearby Eltham with business partner and brother-in-law Binny Amin in the summer.
Having invested in his last major refit at Londis Bexley Park in 2021, followed by a second significant investment in food to go, lights and freezers in 2022, this year he was determined to fine-tune his offer and seek out new areas of growth.
“There’s all these people saying rip it all out and start again,” he says. “There’s no need for that at the moment. Until there’s a need to do it, you might as well spend a little bit here, a little bit there.”
Nishi prides himself on running a store that keeps on top of all the latest trends. “When I took over, my aim was to become a destination shop with [things like tech platform] Near St, £200 Cognacs, Prime and Mr Beast bars.
“We’re lucky, we’ve grown our turnover 20% in the last year,” he says modestly. Of course, it’s nothing to do with luck and everything to do with Nishi closely following new trends and exercising a strong focus on improving what he calls the “shopability” of the food - essentially making it easier for customers to navigate each section of the store.
Acting on impulse
The store entrance is dedicated to food to go with Tango Ice Blast, F’real milkshakes, Fwip ice cream, baked treats and a range of hot food options, including half a pepperoni pizza and cheeseburger & curly fries, both priced at £4.99.
Nishi sniffed out an opportunity to further impulse sales by rethinking the space adjacent to this area. He removed a Country Choice cold tower and a gondola and added a chiller packed with lunch and snacking lines. The diverse range of products includes baguettes, Urban Eat sandwiches, Ginsters pasties, Rustlers burgers, Chicken Biryani from HSA Foods, pasta pots and houmous & crackers from Harriet’s Garden.
Installing a dedicated snacks chiller has allowed more room for Nishi to expand impulse soft drinks. He has extended American drinks, protein shakes, juices and milkshakes, while scaling back on Barr drinks and Fanta variations. Energy drinks has welcomed the addition of more Red Bull flavours, while his bubble tea and RTD coffees area has also received an overhaul.
“RTD Coffees is a big growth area for us, so we’ve tripled the amount we do, whereas we only used to do a couple. Now we do Costas, Starbucks - the big ones fly out - and boba [bubble] tea. We had our own [RTD] Bubble tea cans from Scotland. Initially, we did 80 in two weeks, then it started slowing down and they only had a two week life, so we concentrated on bringing in the boba itself. You can freeze it and put it in Champagne or Prosecco, you can put it in iced tea and coffee.”
Keen to inspire customers, Nishi has even experimented with adding boba bubbles to Tango Ice Blast and space dust on TikTok to create a funky flavour combination.
His efforts appear to be paying off. “Drinks is such a big area,” he says. “We’re doing maybe £7-8,000 a week.”
Another runaway success is vapes. “It came out of nowhere,” says Nishi, noting how he has grown his offer from two shelves, to eight.
Unafraid of breaking the mould, he made the decision to put vapes on the shop floor over a year ago on an end bay opposite the counter and has continued evolving the range to meet with consumers’ changing demands. “It’s always been a spot that we’ve never known what to put in it,” he says. “Offer bays, for me, never really worked. That spot there, I’ve probably made more money in a year than I have in 20 years! It was just a nothing area - an overspill for wine. We never sold anything from it - it was the deadest space in the shop. Now it’s the busiest part of the shop, along with hot food and drinks.”
The risk of shoplifting isn’t enough to deter him from keeping vapes in their current location. “We learnt with medicines about six years ago to put them on the shop floor,” he explains. “We have cameras on the area … shoplifting happens, but our sales are way outweighing this. It saves time for staff having to stand there if they get an indecisive customer who doesn’t know what they want, so shopability was the reason we did it.”
The category is performing so well that he wants to expand. “We’re thinking about putting shelves on the side of the vape bay as well,” he says.
Of course, Nishi’s keen eye for trending products is doing his vape category no end of good. “We embraced it and got everything in - we’ve got the leading brands - Crystal, Lost Mary, Gold Bar. We can do 25 cases a week of top sellers like Lost Mary,” he says. “I have to order 400 at a time between the three stores - it’s absolutely silly.”
Now that he is well known in the local area for his impressive selection, the store attracts a regular stream of vapers looking for the latest launches.
“We got in eight or 10 Gold Bars when they first hit the market and sold two of each case in 24 hours, so we went the whole hog and got them all in and delisted the slower Elf Bar lines,” he says.
His promotions are also helping to win customer. “Not many people do the three for £12 offer [on Lost Mary and Crystal brands]," he says. "You lose a bit of margin, but the tanning shop next door started selling vapes, so we thought we’d better up our game a bit.
“We’ve grown sales from half a percent of our business to about 15%, it’s close to cigarettes - it’s a monster! Vaping has probably saved a lot of retailers over the last year what with the rise in electricity and the price of fuel.”
The category also generates incremental sales, he adds. “Everyone picks up more than just vapes - drinks, crisps, snacks etc,” he says.
Vapes isn’t the only category driving footfall, the store’s confectionery offer is also attracting plenty of attention.
Local lady Debbie supplies large bags of brightly coloured pick ‘n’ mix style sweets. The 500g bags of foam mushrooms, cola bottles, jelly shapes and edible bracelets carry a £4.99 pricetag and customers can’t get enough of them. “We’re pushing 60-80 bags a week,” says Nishi.
There’s also a strong selection of American sweets, drinks and snacks. “We have four different American suppliers,” he says. “They all vary in price and have different stuff so we keep it open to make sure we can have different drinks and new products. We have a minimum margin of 25%, but on most of it you’re looking at 35-40%.”
Earlier in the year, he made a killing with viral TikTok trend Van Holten’s Pickles, even making up his own pickle bags with Cheetos, chamoy sauce, tajin, fruit wind-ups, and a pickle. “The bags we made up, we sold 50 in four days at £25 each,” says Nishi.
Now that the height of the trend has passed, Nishi is trimming down the pickle selection to just the quickest sellers to allow room for other in vogue products.
The next mega trend he’s cashing in on is dehydrated sweets. Freeze-drying chewy sweets creates a crunchy texture, but maintains the flavour. “They’re really good for people with braces because they’re just puffed up rather than chewy,” he says. The store's social media videos showing the treats have already amassed over 1,000 views with plenty of shoppers keen to try the new treat.
He plans to free up more space on the adjacent magazines fixture. “Menzies is sending us box after box,” he explains. “We get Vintage Spirits, Tractor Weekly - I’ve not sold one in 10 years. It’s dead stock and it’s probably £300 worth of magazines. My next job will be to delist a lot of it.” This will give him extra room to extend faster moving areas, such as sweets and snacks.
@londisbexleypark1 FREEZEDRIED SWEETS!!! We got a huge range of freezedried sweets and they are epic! As seen on tiktoc @freezedriedsweets #fyp #londisbexley😍 #freezedried#new #epic#sweets#americansweets ♬ All The Way Up（Remix） - 笑匠&音源&十八闲客
Premium beers and wines
Alcohol has already received the Nishi treatment, with slower selling formats delisted in favour of premium brands.
“With beers we’ve taken out some of the 500mls to make room for new brands like Madri,” he says. “Peroni is doing really well too. You won’t find a Budweiser 440ml because we’ve got rid of it and we used to do a Heineken small one, but we’ve kept the quicker selling pints. Kronenbourg 500ml and Red Stripe went.”
Buzzballs RTDs are performing too, he claims. On sale for £3.99 for a 200ml serving, the RTD cocktails don’t come cheap, but their spherical packaging makes them stand out from the crowd. “I first bought them last year at a trade show,” he says. “We ordered £5-600 worth and they went well.”
Over in the wines section, premium lines are also performing well. “We’ve got fine wines and we’ve brought Champagnes onto the shopfloor to keep them chilled,” says Nishi. “Again, it’s about the shopability - you can just pick up and go.”
He’s also been cutting down on slow sellers. “We’ve delisted about 30 wines from Londis - Blossom Hill lines and some of the I Heart range,” he says. “We had four Secretary Bird, the Sauvignon Blanc was the best one, so we got rid of the rest. There was no point in having the other variations.”
The cost of living crisis has done nothing to quell his customers’ demands for pricier bottles. “We can sell expensive wines,” he says. “And not just once, but on a regular weekend basis.
“Especially with the lipstick effect, people will pay £2 more for a nice bottle of wine. We’ve definitely seen an increase in sales.”
In fact, some people will pay a lot more, he observes, claiming that the Whispering Angel brand, which he sells at £29.99 per bottle or three for £70 on promotion - has been a hit.
Nishi has discovered his customers are equally open to splashing out on seasonal novelties, which are in a prime location on an end bay facing the store entrance. Over the summer, his store was the go-to shop for outdoor play items. “In June we sold everything - four cases of water guns, water balloons, cricket bats, badminton rackets. It was all good stuff for summer, the kids love it,” he grins. “We sold three different types of paddling pools with the most expensive being about £50. People didn’t even think twice about it.
“Every year we do it and everyone knows us for it.”
And with Christmas on the way he knows quirky novelty lines will add a little sparkle to his sales. “Last year, we sold loads of light up musical telephone booths with Father Christmas in the snow,” he says. "A lady came in and bought six - she must have spent about £150 on them!”
Nishi's dedication to smart ranging and continuous improvement remains as 2023 draws to a close. Plans are already in place to increase the store’s social media following by raising awareness among in-store customers, as well as to improve the shop’s overall feel and ambience.
“We’re getting our QR codes for TikTok and Facebook [put up in store],” he says.
He’s also working with Londis to give the store some special touches as it is set to become a flagship outlet for the symbol. “The help we get in store is epic ... the POS kits are great. [Sales & brand director at Budgens and Londis] Stewart Fenn is really good and my rep [retail development manager] Brian [Neve] is fanastic," he says. “We've been left out a little bit with the branding stuff - Premier has had their refresh and Budgens has had their new stuff, so the natural progression is it's got to be us.
“Londis is doing a bit more in the store for us with new signs,” says Nishi.
“We’re looking at adding some branding on our food to go next and maybe some mood lighting - we’re not stopping!”
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