Amit Parmar believes that building a retail business today means trying new ideas. And he’s doing it again and again. Though a relative newcomer to the convenience store sector after opening his first store just over five years ago, he’s already the proud owner of four locations, all within a 25 km radius of Sudbury, Ont.
Parmar credits a fresh – as in fresh-baked – approach to taking risks for that spectacular growth. His biggest innovation to beat the competition: baked goods. “We are famous for our edible image cake (photo cakes),” says Parmar. “We also bake speciality breads, kaisers, panini, sour dough, dark pumpernickel, garlic bread, garlic cheese bread, and fresh baked cookies. There’s healthy profit in baked products, especially if you make the products yourself. If you can control the damage and waste in the baking process, you can get a very high profit margin; more than 50 per cent is typical.”
A newcomer to Canada – and c-stores
Parmar, 38, once worked in the healthcare sector, but when he came to Canada from his native India in 2008, he was ready to strike out on his own and in a different field. Little did he know that different field would include a convenience store. “I was looking around for a business. My wife’s cousin had bought Lasalle Kwik-Way. When he offered me a partnership, I jumped at the opportunity.”
He bought that first store in 2012. “I was new to the industry. In the beginning I was ordering in large quantities and products were getting expired. I learned retail the tough way – through trial and error.” The business boomed, but the partnership fizzled.
Parmar went solo, purchasing his next Kwik-Way in Hanmer, Ont. in 2014 and his most recent acquisition, the Minnow Lake Kwik-Way in mid-2017. A location in Val Caron brings the number to four. “Now, I run a one-man show with new challenges every day, but I love it,” he says, pointing out that having multiple locations gives him an edge in buying power with suppliers. And though local drug stores and gas stations are campaigning on aggressive pricing for confectionery and tobacco, Parmar is outmuscling his competitors by using his increased multi-store buying power. “It also helps me to try new products, and I can experiment with new types of promotions at different locations,” he says.
Customer service is key
Parmar is a firm believer that one of the key drivers of success is combining prime locations and great service. In his stores, the customers are king and queen. “I take care of every single request from my customers,” he insists. “Being open seven days a week, from morning to night, I have many chances to talk to my customers, asking my regular clientele what they think of my stores, my staff and the product mix. If I’m asked about a new kind of product, I’ll consider it. If they want a service that’s not a usual convenience store item, I’ll certainly explore the possibilities.”
It’s in response to probing discussions like these that Parmar recently decided to open U-Haul dealerships in all three of his Kwik-Way stores. In addition, his Hanmer store provides UPS courier services; and his LaSalle store has just added UPS and Western Union to its roster of services. “Without the feedback I get from my customers, I wouldn’t be in business,” he notes.
As for the bakery department, it’s currently only at the Hanmer store, though customers can pick up cakes ordered from any location. Parmar notes that there was a bakery in this location for 20 years before he took it over. “I wanted to continue it,” he affirms. He learned how to use the proofer (the equipment that gives the final rise of shaped bread dough before it’s baked), as well as the baking oven and storage freezer unit. The dough arrives frozen from a nearby wholesaler.
Sweet aromas, the baking of fresh bread, pastries and cakes, and extra services customers have requested have all made Parmar’s Kwik-Ways popular destination stops in the communities they serve. “When I boght these stores, they were failing,” says Parmar. “I’m doing things different. I’ve made them profitable.”
Amit Parmar’s top tips for successful convenience
- Always strive to be original by diversifying your offerings. Don’t stick just to the traditional mix of pop, potato chips, cigarettes and lottos.
- Embrace change and adopt new ideas quickly. Get the edge on competition by being the first in the area to bring in innovative products and services.
- Work closely with your sales reps for proper inventory management.
- Keep one product from each department at a hot price point to draw more customer traffic.
4 locations: Lasalle, Val Caron, Hanmer and Minnow Lake, within a 25 km radius of Sudbury, Ont.
In business: Parmar opened his first store in 2012. The most recent addition – Minnow Lake – opened in mid-2017.
No. of employees: 7 at the Hanmer store, 5 at each of the other locations
Hanmer: 4,500 sq. ft.
Val Caron: 2,800 sq ft
Lasalle: 2,300 sq ft.
Minnow Lake: 3,200 sq ft.
Best features: fresh baked specialty breads and cakes at the Hanmer location, available on request at the other stores.