For the love of retail
Kaushal Kathuria is the owner of Nearby in Donore, County Louth. He speaks to Fionnuala Carolan about the great personal journey he has had since moving to Ireland from his home in India and his grand plans for the future
14 October 2021 | 0
The Nearby store in Donore, Co. Louth has been given a new lease of life since Kaushal Kathuria took over the running of it in 2019. The village shop needed an overhaul and a steady pair of hands and wholesaler S&W Wholesale identified Kathuria as the man for the job.
Originally from Northern India, Kathuria came to Ireland in 2007 in the name of love. The cross-continent move was deemed necessary due to his inter-caste marriage. Many Indian families still prefer marriages arranged within their religion and caste which meant that it would have been problematic for Kathuria and his wife Shivani Sharma to be married in India, so their best option was to move abroad. This can’t have been easy for the couple but there doesn’t seem to be any trace of resentment about his situation, simply accepting it as a fait accompli.
Arriving in Ireland at just 25 years of age, just as the recession bore down on the country, he counted himself lucky to secure employment with the AIM group, a retail/wholesale outfit that owns the Home Savers brand of retail stores and previously owned the Irish arm of Iceland. Kathuria credits Naeem Maniar, MD of the AIM Group as being a big support to him and says he is very appreciative of the vast experience he gained there.
“I was involved in the first store opening in the Ilac Centre,” he recalls. “There was an Iceland on the ground floor and a Home Savers on the first floor. I started working in sales support and got a lot of experience and exposure there.” He worked there for six and a half years but always had grand plans to go it alone. “I eventually decided there as no more growth for me there. They all really supported me and gave me all the help I needed to start on my own,” he explains.
His first store
Kathuria’s journey as a retailer began in 2013, when a contact from a competitor approached him about taking over their branded shop in Ballymore Eustace, Co. Kildare. He soon realised that running your own store was a whole different ballgame to working for someone else. “I struggled for the first six months,” he freely admits. “I spent 16/17 hours a day working in the store for six months in order to learn everything. I sent my family back to India so I could put all my efforts into learning all I could.”
He says that his wife Shivani and children Navanshi (11) and Paavni (8) enjoyed the time with family allowing Kathuria to focus completely on the new business. This dedication paid off and the business turned
around within the year.
Moving to S&W Wholesale
He traded with a competitor for the first three years but slowly began to buy more and more from S&W Wholesale as he recognised the value and felt that the service was superior. He ultimately decided that he wanted to adopt S&W’s new symbol group Today’s Local and was one of the first symbol stores for the group. They now have over 140 symbol stores across Ireland. Kathuria mentions S&W’s experienced retail team and the support they provide, as being great to work with and he feels that the company has performed very strongly throughout Brexit, maintaining a strong supply chain when others were experiencing shortages.
With full confidence in S&W Wholesale and the Ballymore Eustace store trading well, he was ready for his next project and in 2016, a store came up in Tullow, County Carlow. The previous owners had run the store for 42 years and were ready to retire. It had a strong and loyal clientele that he wanted to cultivate. “The day I opened that store, I started a Facebook page for the business and within a week, I had over 700 likes,” he says.
“Today’s Local in Tullow has been really, really good for me and the food business in that shop is really strong even though we have huge competition there. The store has been profitable for me from day one and
S&W Wholesale have played a vital part in helping me deliver this for our customers,” he says.
Donore to the fore
Kathuria had made no secret of the fact that he wanted to keep growing his portfolio so the third shop came about when he was approached again by S&W Wholesale to take over a Today’s Local shop in Donore, Co. Louth. “I gave myself a target to take on a new store every two to three years until I am in my mid-forties and then I will slow down a bit,” he explains. “It takes about a year for a store to find its feet and then it starts to run itself but I give it another six months to make sure it is being run properly and then I’m ready to move on to the next project,” he says.
He took over the Donore store in May 2019 so luckily had his feet under the table before Covid hit. However, it was a difficult time to try to turn around a new business, and he decided that the new Nearby symbol group would be an ideal fit due to its community-focused ethos.
Nearby Donore is a sizable store at 3,000sq ft and luckily it is the only shop in the village, but Kathuria says that customers don’t have far to travel to other shops in Duleek and Drogheda which is only ten minutes away with all the big supermarkets.
“The challenge is there. If you don’t look after the customer and look after their needs, they won’t actually come or they will only come for milk and butter,” he says.
“We changed the whole look and feel of the shop so now the key categories are doing well like impulse, soft drinks, deli and our exclusive coffee brand Cuppa.”
Investing in the store
There is a generous sit-down area of approximately 400sq ft but while it has been closed for Covid, Kathuria was not going to see it go to waste. He introduced a range of non-food items like toys, cleaning products and DIY tools which has added €300/€400 a week to his sales.
“I will eventually go back to seating when we get the deli back to where it should be. Hopefully before next summer we’ll have indoor and outdoor seating,” he says. “We as a community store will continue to follow the guidelines set out and do all we can to protect both my customers and staff.”
He is investing in his staff with higher than average pay and training in order to keep the turnover low and attract a high calibre. There are six full-time and six part-time staff and he has a new manager and assistant manager with great experience coming on board so he is hopeful that this will take the store to the next level.
“My future goal is to have a very strong deli and in-house bakery because there is huge potential here,” he says. “The store has already seen a sales hike of 60% since we took over. S&W are really supporting me through this. The BDMs are here every week and we’re working together to make sure we get it right.”
Nearby Donore is definitely on the right track but Kathuria is not one to let the grass grow under his feet so he is already in talks to take over another S&W store. “S&W Wholesale brought me to another store in Dublin so I’m just in the middle of pricing that for the deal so hopefully by the end of October I’ll have this new store,” he tells ShelfLife. “I always like to be getting excited about a new adventure. As an entrepreneur,
this is what excites me.”
On a personal level he is very happy in Ireland and hopes his parents might travel from India to visit soon. He very honestly admits that he would love his daughters to get involved with the business when they are older but realises that this is a long way off yet. For the moment he is busy keeping an eye on his three businesses and relishing his next adventure with S&W.