Ten years ago Sonny Saini opened a small store selling high-end grocery products in Barnes, west London, then three years ago he was presented with the opportunity to take on a bigger store just around the corner. He tells DRN more:

Why did you decide to take on a second store?

I had been looking for a while then three years ago this store became available. It is five minutes’ walk from my first store so it is easy to manage, plus I know the customers in this area.

Both stores are Londis but only the newer one is under the Londis fascia. We knew people wanted more products and we could see that there are more smaller households around here, with people wanting to do more weekly shops from a local store.

What is your competition like?

We have a Sainsbury’s and an M&S food store about 10 minutes away by foot and we have another competitor – the Co-op – moving into the area soon.

But we are able to ensure our store is quite different. The products we stock are from so many different suppliers and a lot of them are boutique suppliers. The big boys can’t do this.

And our customer service is one of our USPs, so although they might have the biggest purchasing power the service we small indies provide is something they can’t match.

If we don’t have a product that a customer is requesting then we can look into sourcing that for them, for example.

What else do you do to keep your customers coming back?

We do a lot of hot food to go. We have fresh bread baked in the store, and two weeks ago we started selling fresh sushi, which is going well so far.

In our smaller store we have started selling Chicago Town hot pizzas and we have a Tango Ice Blast machine and fresh coffee. The market is changing so much and it is more about food-to-go concepts.

We are able to balance things out between the two stores. The smaller one is nearer to town and has more passing trade, whereas the bigger one has less food-to-go and is more about weekly shopping trips.

People are shopping more online so we started working with Deliveroo to ensure we had a delivery service. But it takes a big percentage of the profits there, so we are looking into doing our own.

What is your BWS section like and what sells well?

Wine is one of the big sellers. We get most of our wine from Walker & Wodehouse. We have started using Instagram a lot more to highlight things such as new wines, and this seems to be popular with our customers.

Spirits are selling well – I would say they have been in growth for at least the past two years. We changed the spirits display recently and we added in a lot of new products.

We have all our spirits behind the counter and we were able to give these a lot more space recently when we removed the cigarette gantry and put it below the counter. We increased the range and changed the line up a bit.

Gin is going well and we have a big range of bourbon. In whisky there are some regular shoppers but the younger shoppers are mostly focused on gin and vodka.

We have offers sometimes on gin such as a discount if the customer also buys Fever-Tree tonics.

We have a good selection of beers and white wines in the chiller cabinets. Craft beer is something we increased our range of fairly recently and these are popular.

For Christmas we will do promotions on six bottles of wine for a discount and more offers around bulk buying too.

What else have you been doing to prepare for Christmas?

We have some pre-orders on wines where people can order packs of two or six.

We see two types of shoppers at Christmas and we have to prepare for both. The first is those who make planned buying trips, and this started at the beginning of October. This is all geared around bulk buying.

The second is panic buying, and these people tend to buy more just to ensure they have covered all the bases.

For the second type it is the weeks either side of Christmas Day which are really important, and in fact we are always open on Christmas Day, between 9am and 3pm. It is one of our busiest days of the year.

What are your plans for the future?

We don’t do any meal deals with drinks and perhaps we are lagging behind in this area, but there is a Cook ready meals shop near to us so, although our sales of frozen ready meals are pretty good, that is one of the reasons I haven’t looked into it much.

The store was in a pretty good condition when we took it on so we haven’t done much to it to date, but we are about to give it a big refit from January 3, when we will be shut for three weeks.

We are taking everything out and making the shop bigger and the storage room smaller. We are removing the suspended ceiling altogether, to give it a sense of space, and we will have new flooring.

We plan to add a lot more in the fresh section to give more space to things such as cheese.

In BWS we have started looking at pre-mixed drinks in cans, and so far we have seen good sales of Sipsmith & Tonic in cans. We will keep an eye on this to see if we want to add in any more. We have also seen good sales of rosé wine in cans, which I didn’t think would be popular, but young people have been buying these.