Rising costs, more shoplifting, more distance: How an Asian shopkeeper is handling the Coronavirus

13th June 2020   •   profile
Credit: Anisha Parekh
The allure of working for yourself and achieving financial success appealed to many first-generation Asians that immigrated to Britain, and that has remained with their children too.

But the business landscape has dramatically changed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and many small businesses are now more concerned with surviving than thriving.

I spoke to 31-year-old Pratik Parekh (no relation), who has managed his family business since 2016 - a 500 square foot Londis convenience store in Ashton-under-Lyne.

Was he worried about working in a store and frequently interacting with the public? How has the pandemic affected his business?

He explained why despite being initially worried, he is now less anxious. He also expressed dismay at manufacturers taking advantage of the pandemic to exploit the public.

* * * * *

Are you worried about working in a busy store and frequently interacting with members of the public?

"Initially I was worried about being around the public and felt quite paranoid but now it has become the new normal. At the end of the day, bills still go out, wages need to be paid and our customers, who we have a duty to, still need their essentials."

"I have also tried to create a safe environment by having a one-way system to get around the store, limiting the number of customers that can enter and having a plastic screen at the counter to reduce the chance of infection. We’re also wiping surfaces down frequently."

How has the pandemic affected your business?

"In some ways we have been busier. People are hesitant about going to the supermarkets because they are so busy. It meant that we were getting customers coming in and bulk buying popular items such as flour, eggs, toilet rolls and alcohol. But also bad as it has led to stock shortages, so when we do get new customers come in and they see empty shelves, they leave with a bad first impression."

"I used to go to cash and carry once a week but now I go two or three times per week so I can get the stock that I might not be able to get from Londis. It means that I have to work longer and harder, I’ve worked 12 hours a day for the last 8 weeks."

"The safety measures are important but I’ve also noticed that it creates a bit of a divide between us and the customers. Independent retail is unique because we take the time to speak to our customers and build a rapport with them in a way that supermarkets don’t. But with the screen in the way, customers feel like they shouldn’t stay longer than they need to."

People have noticed rising prices since the pandemic. What are your thoughts?

"Costs at wholesalers have gone up. Things like tinned groceries and medicines for example have increased. I don’t know whether it is wholesalers or manufacturers who are ultimately responsible but it isn’t right. Naturally, we have to increase our prices to customers but our profits are the same. I’ve taken the time to explain to them why it has happened and that it isn’t our fault."

"It makes us look bad but more importantly, it is exploiting consumers at a time when some people have lost their work, on reduced pay and demand for such items is at an all-time high. One day things will go back to normal and customers won’t forget the people or companies that took advantage of them during the tough times."

"I’m trying to provide value to customers by running monthly promotions on popular products. This helps with sales and also tells customers that I am not trying to rip them off."

"We also ordered 150 loaves of bread and gave them away to customers as a way of showing that we care about them and the community. I had one customer complain on Facebook that we shouldn’t be encouraging people to leave their homes and entice people to come into our shop for the bread. Funnily enough, she was one of the first customers to come in and get her free loaf."

What other problems have you encountered?

"The worst thing though, is an increase in theft. It happens most days now and the police don’t investigate it as they are already stretched and don’t regard it as a serious crime. But £20-£30 a week cuts into our profit margins massively.

"It’s frustrating because I work so hard but I’m not surprised because unemployment is high and people are desperate."

"To deal with the thefts, I used to post pictures from my CCTV of thieves on Facebook but that is now illegal. Instead I’m developing an idea to cooperate with other local stores so that we can identify thieves and share that knowledge with each other."
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Anish Parekh is a freelance journalist and writer.
Earlier articles by Anish Parekh
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