Making a point of difference

Tahir Parwaiz has been running Korner Express in Hamilton for 11 years, and with possibly the best Champagne collection anywhere in Scotland, and a food to go home delivery service, his shop is constantly evolving to a changing market.

by Kevin Scott

There’s a lot to be said for retailers who take chances, who put their own cash behind ideas that they believe can elevate their business. Tahir Parwaiz is a retailer who has done this time and again since opening his shop just outside the town centre of Hamilton in 2002.

While Tahir’s father was a retailer, it was not the career he’d marked out for himself. He went to university then got a job in marketing but not long afterwards “fancied a change.” That’s when Korner Express came into view.

“I thought the shop had potential so I got a loan to acquire the business and began trading.” The shop was in a state of disrepair and taking only £3,000 a week, but rather than overstretch himself, Tahir worked for a year, learning how the business operated, before embarking on a full refit that also saw the shop expanding to its current size of around 1,000 sq ft.Throughout that refit, and ever since, Tahir has resisted the charms of the symbol groups and has remained unaffiliated, with buying done through JW Filshill and United Wholesale (Scotland).

“I’ve always wanted to keep full control,” he says. “I want customers to say ‘I’m going to Korner Express,’ rather than going to Spar, or Londis, or whoever.”
The shop is open from 7am until 10pm every day with seven staff taking care of the frequent trickle of customers. It’s a small shop, and it feels small, with shelves stacked high and browsing space at a minimum. Two areas of the shop stand out immediately though – the amount of space dedicated to food-to-go, and the off-trade section. The latter is a little paradise in an otherwise standard store – complete with an artificial palm tree. The shelves and chillers are lined with many familiar brands, but many more that customers would be unfamiliar with, from Bats Blood, a red wine encased in a coffin-shaped bottle, to beers and malt liquors from America. And then there’s the Champagnes.

Sparkling ideas
Six years ago Tahir was looking for a point of difference for the shop and took the brave move to invest a considerable sum in premium Champagnes. Today, the shop is renowned locally, and beyond, for the fact it stocks over 40 brands of Champagne – certainly not something you see in your average convenience store.

“I wanted to do something different and I’ve got an interest in drinks so we decided to give it a go. It was slow for the first year but word was beginning to spread and now we’ve got this great reputation. We get regular customers like James McFadden and Barry Ferguson which helps, and word of mouth serves us well,” says Tahir. “We got established and now people travel from all around for premium Champagne.”

Premium is the word too, with bottles of Krug and Cristal going for up to £250.

Premium offer
The shop has also expanded into premium spirits with the range of vodkas hugely impressive, including many boutique brands for the US market. “Younger people today want something different,” says Tahir. “They don’t want Buckfast, they want to emulate celebrities. People come here for that point of difference.”

Products include Olde English 800 malt liquor and Colt 45, products imported from America. In fact, Tahir has a close network of importers he relies upon to maintain this impressive level of hard to obtain stock. “Stock is only ever a phone call away and I can get hold of lines that no other retailer in Scotland has on sale.”

With the drinks offering ticking over, Tahir began examining where else to expand the business, and three years ago – in something of a complimentary service to his impressive drinks offering, he began a delivery service for hot food. “We have two drivers working weekend mornings and I need to take on another,” he says. “It’s just gone through the roof, to the point we sometimes need to disconnect the phone just to give the kitchen a chance to fulfil the orders we’ve taken.”

While a full breakfast costs just £2.90 and filled rolls around £1.20, Tahir says that with the £1.50 delivery charge and list of other items (milk, soft drinks, snacks, cigarettes), it’s not uncommon for transaction spend to pass £15. “No one else offers this service. I could expand it, with some investment. We get calls from Bothwell, Uddingston, but have to say no because of the volume from locals.”

Tahir explains that weekend mornings in particular are an almost military operation as the kitchens fulfil orders. “We have to act fast, the drivers can only take two or three orders at once because we want to ensure the food is still hot when customers receive it.”

Such a service also builds loyalty. “I’ve got regular customers who have never set foot in the shop,” says Tahir.
It helps too, that meat and bakery products are sourced from local firms that customers know and trust. “We source locally when we can, especially with our food to go service. It was something I felt I had to do from gauging customers – they know Buchanans so that’s where they want their sausage from.”

Washing it down
The most recent addition to the shop has been a Tchibo coffee machine. Similar in size and look to the Costa machines that are becoming more prominent in convenience stores, for Tahir the Tchibo offer was financially better, and he also rated the product higher. There’s a simple promotion on offer. Coffee costs £1.50 per cup, but there’s a 50p discount with a hot roll. Tahir says: “I need to sell 18 cups a day to break even, which was a gamble. In the first six weeks I’ve sold well over that.”
It looks like being another success for Tahir, who will now turn his attention to the next addition to the business. As all good retailers know, standing still isn’t an option. “You have to take risks,” says Tahir. They do pay off. The market is changing and retailers need to change with it. The next generation of shoppers are more clued up, more demanding about what they want. We all need to be ready for that.”

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