Omar gets his licence at last

It’s taken over a decade for Spar Leven Street in Motherwell to obtain an alcohol licence, but in the six months since it was granted the shop’s sales have rocketed, and retailer Omar Nasir can finally relax – though he’d rather move onto the next project.

by Kevin Scott

When Motherwell retailer Omar Nasir called SLR this winter to excitedly announce that he’d been granted an alcohol licence, we promised to give it six months then visit him for a progress report. The reason for his excitement was that the simple process of being able to sell alcohol had become something of an ordeal, an issue that plagued the shop for over a decade, when really, it should never have been an issue.

To put this in context, back in autumn of 1997 – when Omar was just a bairn (his photo in the local paper proves it) Muhammed Nasir was forced to close Nasir’s MiniStore after the council called time on the lease in order to demolish the site. Unperturbed, the Nasirs acquired property adjacent to the former site, on Leven Street, but by the time issues were resolved and this building was ready to operate as a c-store, 18 months had passed and what should have been a simple transfer of licence was refused on grounds of over-provision.

“The family had to fight to get this premises,” says Omar. “It was held up due to it being an open bidding process so even though we were based next to it, it could have gone to anyone. Thankfully we were the highest bidder. It was an old warehouse so we then had to spend a lot of time refitting it.”

When the shop did open it was unaffiliated, and remained so for just over two years, at which point the lure of teaming up with Spar proved too much. Over the years the shop has applied for an alcohol licence seven times, only to see it refused time and again, on the same grounds of over-provision.

“It was always the same story,” says Omar. “But there’s nothing else this side of the dual carriage. There’s a KeyStore and an Asda a ten minute walk away – even longer for older people – and they need to cross a four lane road, yet we just kept being refused.”

There was the odd objection to deal with as well, but these tended to be from local residents fearful of anti-social behaviour. But having never had a licence, it was impossible to say what the impact would be on the surrounding area.

“2009 was the last time we tried – it was just before the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 came into force. We were confident on that occasion, but got knocked back again.”

You’ve really got to admire the resilience of Omar, who by this point, was running the shop. Knowing the profit opportunities that would come from having a licence, another attempt was made in 2011, with an English-based lawyer Stuart Gibson, given the task of getting that all important ‘yes’ from South Lanarkshire council. “We went with Stuart because we’d heard he’d managed to get a licence for a shop in Bothwell that had similar problems,” says Omar.

Again, the council said no, but this time enough was enough and Omar appealed to the Sheriff Court. “It was risky because if we’d lost we’d have been looking at a £10,000 bill for the QC that we hired. They don’t come cheap. Thankfully the Sheriff referred it back to the council.”

This time the application was passed by a vote of 7-2, and the council was left to pick up the tab – but that’s not to say it didn’t cost the Nasirs, with Omar estimating that over the years more than £20,000 has been ploughed into getting the licence.

Worth every penny

That investment seems very shrewd now that the off-trade fixture is up and running. The new-look shop opened in January this year and in the first week sales went up £2,000. By the end of February the shop was turning over an additional £5,000 per week – a figure that has been maintained. “People don’t need to cross the dual carriageway now,” says Omar. “So we’ve picked up so much business. It’s not just beer and wine they’ve been buying either, sales of snacks and cigarettes have grown as well.”

For anyone who’s been in the Leven Street store, they’ll know space is tight. Omar and his team work hard to fill every space and give their customers as much range as possible, so when he called SLR to say he’d finally got his licence and had revamped the shop, we were keen to see actually how it had affected things. As it is, the off-trade fixture takes up a small section on the far side of the store, next to the till area. There’s around six meters of chillers and a further metre of red wine, and then spirits behind the till. It actually makes the shop seem more spacious. It’s neat, incredibly well presented and the range – which was planogrammed by Omar himself – provides exactly what the local market is after, multi-packs of mainstream beers, affordable wines and a decent range of spirits.

“I knew there was a demand for alcohol in the shop; it was the missing part and we’ve spent 12 years trying to get on track. Sales rocketed straight away, and we’re now looking to extend our opening hours from 8pm to 9pm, while I’m speaking to Spar about moving other parts of the store around.”

Of course, there is more to the shop than alcohol. Omar is shining example of what hard-work and dedication can do to a shop. He’s been shortlisted for SLR Awards in most of the major categories, and won the Newstrade Retailer of the Year in 2010. The smart money says that he’ll be looking out his bow-tie again before he retires – which given he only turned 24 in June, won’t be for quite some time.

“We want to keep improving, we know that trends change and so we want to focus more on fresh. That’s the next area to address.”

Always moving forward, always offering more to his customers – that’s what has made Omar an award-winning retailer, and with a new element to his business, the future is looking bright.

 

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