Profile: A shop and a pension all in one

Each month Professor Russell Smith profiles a small business facing a big challenge
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The Independent Online

Running Chinnor Mini Mart as a franchise of the Spar group has given Baljit and Sarjit Bains more freedom

Sarjit Bains, 38, was pregnant with her third child when she and her husband Baljit Bains, 39, decided to go into business. Both had a retail background and the chance to purchase the leasehold on a shop, with a flat above, seemed like the ideal opportunity. "Living over the shop meant that one of us could always be with the children despite working long hours from 6.30am to 9pm," explains Sarjit. "This was essentially a lifestyle decision fitting employment around family life."

The independent status of Chinnor Mini Mart in Oxfordshire meant that the couple were free to purchase from any wholesaler. "That was obviously a positive," says Baljit, "although few wholesalers would give us meaningful credit when we started." And so Baljit found himself spending more than 20 hours a week on the road collecting small orders from wholesalers – a problem which defeated the couple's original lifestyle intentions. The solution came with a franchise from Spar. "Franchising is very competitive in the retail trade," explains Baljit. "We chose Spar but there are similar opportunities available from Londis, Costcutter and Nisa." There was no fee to join and, as well as offering attractive credit terms, Spar allows franchisees to purchase products from other wholesalers and trade under their own name. The big bonus was that Spar could deliver up to five times a week which freed up Baljit to run the shop.

The location of the shop, including the lack of a nearby superstore, has been an important factor in its success. This encouraged the couple to invest further in the premises and purchase the freehold on the property.

Spar provided finance for a refit of the Mini Mart. Owning the freehold allowed the couple to rent out the flat above the shop and to buy their own home in the village. Increasing revenue also allowed them to take on staff and they now employ one full-time and two part-time employees.

It's taken over a decade of hard work to get the business to its current position. What then of the future – a chain of shops? "Definitely not," says Baljit, "that wouldn't match our lifestyle. We see the business in terms of generating revenue until we retire. Owning the premises means that we can then sell the leasehold after that." Family income and pension plan all in one – a very clever business model that many small business owners could learn from.