Three is the magic number

After 21 years at the same Knightswood store, Spar retailer Iqbal Sadiq has moved to Maryhill, offering a retail triumvirate of convenience store, Subway and post office. We took a visit to see how he’s managing to juggle all three businesses.

by Kevin Scott

Iqbal Sadiq’s journey to become a retailer running three businesses in one premises on Maryhill Road in Glasgow is an intriguing one, not least because of this very fact. Those three businesses are a Spar convenience store, a Subway franchise and a post office. To say Iqbal is being kept on his toes would be an understatement, but in the modern retail environment, he believes retailers need to offer their customers more than simple staples. Truth is, Iqbal’s move to Maryhill was not something he’d planned.

He’d ran a Spar store on Baldwin Avenue in Knightswood for 21 years but when the leasholder, Clydebank Co-op, decided to use the premises for its joint venture with KeyStore Iqbal was served his notice and had to vacate. “Robert [Sider] decided he wanted the store back and that was that,” says Iqbal. “It was a good shop for me and I was there for so long but it was the nature of the lease we had.” He immediately began to source a new store and soon saw a vacant pub on Maryhill Road next to St George’s Cross subway station.

Given the change of use, Iqbal and his legal team had to jump through a number of loops – coming up against strong opposition in the council, despite the area’s need for a good convenience store. “We had to go to a committee and it was four votes each, but thankfully the chairman had the deciding vote in the event of a tie, and he granted us the licence.” Not having a licence could have been a deal breaker as CJ Lang had told Iqbal they weren’t confident the shop would succeed without one.

Thankfully, that wasn’t tested, and Iqbal had another important addition to the shop: a Subway franchise, which was incorporated into the refit – something which came with a lofty six-figure price tag such was the extent of change in the shop – and in its basement. “The shop opened nine months before the Knightswood lease expired as I wanted to be in good shape by that point.

Maryhill is very different,” says Iqbal. “In Knightswood I had a community catchment area, but this store is different; it’s on the edge of the city centre so the make up is different. We hardly sold any meal deals up there, for example. Here we do lots.”

Stick or twist?

Iqbal admits the Subway deal was a gamble. He says to be assured of success you need to be near a school, offices or on a main road. He says: “I hoped the main road aspect would work for us. We looked at a number of options, including incorporating a café, but after speaking to retailers with a Subway franchise I became confident it would work.” With a healthy margin between 30-40% (depending on wastage) Iqbal’s sums told him if he could generate sales of £2,000 a week it would work.

In the store’s first week the shop took £7,500 and the Subway an additional £2,500. A year on and it’s comfortably brining in £3,000-£3,500 a week. “It’s not only brought people into the shop but it’s got them spending more,” says Iqbal. “We put magazines next to the area where they wait for food. Cigarette and gum sales have been helped too.” The outcome of this story is that the Spar and Subway brands complement each other, with Iqbal saying that he believes the Spar sales would still have hit the target he’d set, they got their a lot quicker with the help of the food to go offering.

Post office expansion

The story doesn’t end there though. In February 2013 Iqbal was approached by the local postmaster who asked if he’d be interested in taking on the Post Office. At the time it wasn’t conceivable but later in the year the franchise became available and Iqbal applied. “I got interviewed, and had a great presentation that Spar helped me with, but I wasn’t accepted,” says Iqbal. “They did ask me to learn more about how the post office was run and re-apply though, so I thought I’d give it one more go.

After the second interview they said they’d let me know later on that day and I spent most of my time making sure I had a phone signal! It eventually rang at 5.50pm and I was told I’d been successful. I immediately gave the staff on shift at that time Champagne.” So, less than a year after opening, Iqbal was tasked with having to renovate the store again. Oddly, post-refit to accommodate the post office, it actually looks bigger, with the counter space now the full width of the shop, incorporating all three sides of the business. “There was certainly some frustrations,” admits Iqbal. “We had to take out equipment that was less than a year old, and the new system of commission doesn’t pay as well as the old postmaster salary, but it’s certainly been a good addition to the shop.” Iqbal says there is “big money” in selling the likes of mortgages and insurance – things generally unimaginable in a convenience store not so long ago, but like his Subway franchise, the addition of this proves how Iqbal is adapting to the modern world. “I think selling convenience goods only gets you so far these days, there needs to be a point of difference, whether that’s a food to go offer or a post office. Before anything else though, I’m a Spar retailer. I get more of a kick from selling Irn-Bru than a mortgage, but if I’m in a street with half a dozen other shops I want to be the one with the post office.”

The post office has been an undeniably success. Overall Spar sales are up 12% since it opened. “There are lots of new customers,” says Iqbal. “And they’ve been very complimentary. No matter how long I do this for, that still feels good to hear.” With three businesses there has been additional strain placed on the business through training and staff costs. It’s something that Iqbal has had to carefully manage. “We’ve got staff trained up in each of the areas, but what tends to happen is that they can cover for each other, so Post Office staff can man the Spar till, Spar staff can man the Subway till and so on.” The downside of all this is that Iqbal has had to put himself back on the timetable. “It’s back to early starts for me until we make some progress on the finance.”

A lot to manage

Of course, this means Iqbal is juggling three businesses. “There’s certainly a lot to manage. The old store was doing £25,000 a week and was less work, but this is exciting. Running three businesses squeezes us but the longer we do it the easier it will get, but it’s Spar that makes me money – that remains the focus of the store.” When asked if he’s looking for another site, Iqbal is unequivocal. “One shop is enough for me. I admire people who have 4-5 stores; I’m too hands on perhaps. For the nine months I ran both stores I was working too many hours. I like spending time with my kids, getting a hug at the end of the day.”

Iqbal’s business expansion tips

  • Retailers need to offer something different now. Coffee and Rollover machines are everywhere now; you need more, you need to invest in a real point of difference.
  • Approach a reputable company, whether that’s a food to go partner or someone like the Post Office.
  • Subway is a big brand so if you’re looking at a food to go option, they’re worth considering.
  • If you have space then create a sit-in area; it’ll increase footfall dramatically.

Leave a Response