Posted: 16.11.20 at 12:07 by LAYTH YOUSIF @HitchinNubNews
Hitchin Nub News aims to support our community, promoting shops, businesses, charities, clubs and sports groups.
We will be profiling some of these businesses and organisations regularly in a feature called 'Up Close in Hitchin'.
For today's UP CLOSE IN HITCHIN we focus on Kav Nijjer, owner of Blake's Corner Store on Ickleford Road.
Read on to find out how a progressive independent store can compete against high street giants.
Just how does a small Hitchin convenience store survive during the Covid crisis - when up against supermarket giants in our town?
Two lockdowns in 2020 have seen the main players on our high streets post record profits through shoppers using their services when not much else is allowed to remain open.
The behemoth grocers are also backed by government cash in the form of grants or loans, which, in some cases, is then simply channelled to shareholders to keep share prices relatively buoyant, in what was an increasingly depressed market, prior to the first lockdown back in March.
While, in the meantime, up and down the land, hard-working independent shops and companies are being forced out of business by the pressure of the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet, entrepreneurs from Hitchin and north Herts are stepping up their fight against the encroachment of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and M&S in our town, to deliver independent services.
Competitive pricing, locally sourced products and roots in our area are ways that can help stores fight the big chains dominance.
In a market influenced greatly by supermarket goliaths, a local touch and a dash of creativity are a couple of ways independents can survive during lockdown and flourish beyond.
Blake's Corner Store is one such enterprise bucking the trend during the Covid crisis as discerning Hitchin shoppers continue to back local shops.
But how does a small shop compete with the supermarket giants?
"Good question," says Blake's owner Kav Nijjer.
Speaking to Nub News he explained: "We have a massive Sainsburys and B&M right next to us, but somehow we manage to exist.
"It's a tough game, in an environment of very competitive pricing and massive investment into these Goliath stores. We differ in the fact that we cut our margins right down, so we don’t differ too much in pricing.
"We offer products that are local, so we hope that ethical minded shoppers would bear this in mind in these hard times." We help the local economy he says.
"We contribute directly to local charities and schools. "We have lived in Hitchin our whole lives. Me and my wife were both born in Hitchin. We even sponsor the local girls school football team."
What little they have, they contribute where they can. "A lot of hard work goes into running a shop like ours with a full paper round, groceries, off license, parcels and many other services."
It feels like getting blood from a stone sometimes he says, but the one thing they are, is a pillar of the community. "That has never been more true than it is now. Those elderly people you see on the news browsing empty stores where greed has overwhelmed people into a frenzied panic? Those are the people we deliver to. Those are the people we prioritise. Think about that next time you’re waiting in a queue for a massive supermarket that doesn’t pay its fair share of taxes."
Lockdown has been tough for Mr Nijjer's business - but his fighting spirit and business savvy shines through
Blakes has been a long established convenience store in Hitchin. Located on the edge of the town centre, opposite the Victoria Pub and next to the Police station they are just across the road from Bancroft Park.
Blakes is proudly a family run business and they really believe in serving our local community. Since taking over the business in 2017 they've slowly grown it from a local ‘corner shop’ to a mini super supermarket.
They stock fresh meat, vegetables, fresh sandwiches, Costa Coffee, a variety of groceries, alcohol, wine. as well as the usual convenience you’ll find in traditional local shops (sweets, crisps, soft drinks). They also offer Hermes Parcel Services as well as Payzone Services.
But how was their last lockdown experience?
To tell the truth, it was traumatic, says Mr Nijjer with searing honesty. "Trying to keep up with demand was something that was insanely difficult," he says, adding: "Also, we were short staffed, as some staff took to self isolation and had almost treble the workload.
"Thankfully though, local members of the community stepped up and helped us deliver food and essentials to isolators and the vulnerable."
With an eye on digital growth, Blake's opted to move online too. We wanted a more streamlined and professional service, Mr Nijjer says - as opposed to just taking orders over the phone.
"We feel that people are more comfortable ordering from a computer or device nowadays," he explains: "Also we feel that we have something to offer. Products that the supermarkets don’t offer.
"We source local suppliers for a lot of our products, so our customers can be assured that they are invigorating the local economy when they purchase from us."
For more information visit Blake's website here
Blake's new website designed by Hitchin based TenX Digital Marketing. It allows customers to order and pay for their shopping online and book a delivery slot for same day delivery. Customers can order as late as 8pm for same day delivery which is free for all orders over £15.
For more on TenX Digital Marketing click here
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