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Not just a Corner Shop – Wigston Deli is innovative, caring and community orientated. PART ONE

21 November 2022

Pratik Master and his wife Bhavini (known as Bee) have taken the local corner shop previously run by Pratik’s parents and turned it into something truly amazing.  Their innovative approach embraces the social needs of their local community as well as the material needs; it supports local producers which also makes it a sustainable business; it offers high quality foods including pies, bread, cakes, cordials and, of course, home cooked samosas, bhajis and curry pots.  At the heart of its business model is a desire to feel good by helping its customers feel good.  Here Pratik shares his philosophy and his mental health journey with the Business Gateway’s Peter Allen. 

What’s the history of this shop?

My Mum and Dad used to run the shop and technically it’s still Dad’s shop. Mum passed away in 2012 and I joined Dad, but he wanted me to do my own thing, so I started a restaurant which ran for five years and was well-renowned.  Then I had a bit of a wobble with my mental health and shut the restaurant to do events instead. Just as I reopened the restaurant, Covid happened.

I then got drafted into here because Dad is of a certain age and in the vulnerable category.  So, I thought, if people are going to be looking, let’s give them something to look at.  I would get up at 5am and go to the fruit and veg market, go to the wholesalers and do a Facebook live to show people what was available at the wholesalers, and they would tell me their orders. It grew from there and we realised that we had this strength that other people didn’t have with our local suppliers.  In fact, our suppliers offered us things that other people didn’t get because they saw that we were not price-hiking.

So, a month into the first lockdown I got given two and a half kilos of dry yeast and the wholesalers told me I would make an absolute killing on it.  But I decided, instead, to give it away because during lockdown people were trying to occupy themselves and baking was their saviour.  Making people smile makes me feel better and giving away that yeast made people smile.  I was on such a high.

So profit is not everything to you?

As much as we want to run a viable business, we also want to be ourselves.  So, people say ‘you don’t talk about your feelings on your social media’ but I do. I have highs and lows and I don’t hide those from people because that’s part of who I am.  I’m really lucky because Bee is like my rock. I can get really angry with her for not getting upset like I do but she says ‘well, if I got bothered about it too, we’d fall apart, so I don’t.’

We’re not your bog standard ‘we just want to sell you things’ shop.  We DO want to sell you things, but they should be things that you want and need. And there may be times when you might not even need to buy anything, but you’d like to have a sit and a chat.  That’s absolutely fine.

It’s nice when we get a few people around the table in the middle of the shop.  Everyone sits together and we have a bit of a chat, a bit of a whinge because we all need one of those and we’re all on the same footing. We’ve had people come in who are not feeling great or who financially are not doing well and sometimes they’re reluctant to come in.  But I say come on in, have a cup of coffee on us.  It’ll make you feel better, and it’ll make me feel better because I’ll have played a little part in helping you.

I suffer with – I don’t want to say depression because I don’t want to devalue people who are really struggling – but I have my dark days.  This shop gives me the avenue to give back and it’s the best currency you could ever have.

These days lots of people buy nice things to make themselves feel good but there are other ways to feel good about yourself and helping people is one of those.

Tell me more about your Covid experience

We had a great first twelve months and then Covid hit.  And, actually, lots of opportunities came our way.  Covid changed all our old habits in terms of shopping because people had to limit where they went. So, things like flour and yeast that you’d normally pick up with the rest of your shopping, you suddenly couldn’t get in supermarkets. This is where the local shops came in because we weren’t sourcing from the same place.  Most corner shops source from exactly the same place that the supermarket does but we were getting our supplies directly from the people who made them locally and fortunately we never ran out. When we had a few days where we were short, we could limit people’s supply to a 500g bag which was all they needed for their loaf, so that they couldn’t panic buy and leave others without.

At the beginning of Covid we told some of our older or more vulnerable customers not to come to the shop because we would have felt responsible if they’d caught it. So, instead we said, just call us and we’ll drop round what you need.

What changes have you made in the shop?          

It was effectively a paper shop before – fags and mags – with some confectionery. We gradually decreased that side of things because you can get those anywhere and we wanted to focus on things that you couldn’t get just anywhere and focus on quality.

We’re a small fish so we’re not particularly important to large suppliers.  However, if we sell twenty cakes from Karen up the road, she’s going to be grateful because we’re selling twenty more cakes than she would have done anywhere else.

We used to sell Heinz ketchup and now we sell Stokes. We used to sell mass produced honey and now we sell honey from local bee farmers. We used to sell generic chocolate and now we sell high welfare, fair trade and local chocolate as well. We started delisting things that were available in the supermarket and inherently cheaper there.

Where did your focus on business as more than about profit come from?

This is a conversation I’ve been having with myself recently to try and work out what our motivation is.  Right now, our motivation is to make sure we keep the lights on. It’s really tough at the moment.  Yesterday we were here for an hour and a half, and we’d served one person.  So, I put online that we’d love to see people if they wanted to pop in and people started coming.

There are two reasons we run this shop – to meet people and to make money.  If one of those doesn’t happen, it doesn’t really bother me that much.  But if both of them don’t happen, I then get low.  That’s where the currency I talked about comes in – I don’t want negative feelings in my life so I will do everything in my power to bring people here.

Mum would do so many things that effectively were unprofitable, that made her a loss, but they made other people feel better and they made her feel better. She’d visit people in hospital even though she didn’t have the time really, make food and take it into them. She’s the role model for doing things that make you feel better and feel content.  I’ve not mastered the part about feeling content yet, but I think that slowly we’ll get there.

Read Part Two.