Playing golf and watching the family grow up is a popular vision of retirement. For Naren Chotai, golf fan, father of two and grandfather of one, that dream came true when he took early retirement from BT at the tender age of 50. But his new life didn't offer enough and Chotai emerged from retirement in 2003 to become depot manager at Dhamecha Foods in Croydon.
Since then, his mind has been set less on driving to the first green than on driving up sales through better customer service. He has introduced regular staff sessions with an external trainer to teach basic customer service skills and an increase in customer numbers from 3,000 to over 4,000 means the depot needs extending.
"My main problem is lack of space," he says. "We plan to extend the warehouse by 35% if the council grants permission this summer."
If it happens, fresh food, catering services and ice cream will be offered and stationery services developed. Extending areas in-store has already proved beneficial. The cold room has been moved and the tobacco area has been extended into the space it has left. "Tobacco sales have really rocketed in the past two years and we've had to take up to two extra deliveries a week. But because one case can be valuable, the whole operation stops for an hour or so for security reasons. A bigger stock room means we only need one or two monthly deliveries, which really makes a difference," Chotai says.
Deliveries are a constant challenge for wholesalers and Chotai has taken action with a new night shift initiative. Juggling deliveries during the day can be tricky enough, but throw in a warehouse full of customers in a rush, and it hinders efficiency. A night shift can alleviate these problems. "It'll operate just like a supermarket. There's an additional cost, but stocking during the day when customers are here takes too long. We can just top up the shelves in the morning and then focus on customer service."
Other initiatives include a Privilege Club, in conjunction with Nisa-Today's, members of which get special offers and free promotional gear, more checkouts and trade days where customers can meet the depot's suppliers. Customers gain access to special promotions not available in the warehouse and new customers are attracted to join.
A current promotion celebrates Dhamecha's 30th anniversary by offering customers £30 parcels containing, for example, four packs of Coca-Cola reduced by £4 to £30.
Chotai is also acutely aware of the importance of the shopping experience. Since the World Cup started, the warehouse has been decked out with banners and promotional gear supporting the England team.
These little touches, Chotai suggests, have enabled the Croydon depot to become the area's biggest warehouse by turnover and helped to transform it into one of Dhamecha's largest, on a par with its Wembley depot. "This area's big three competitors are Bestway, Booker and Elbrook. When I first came here, we were well behind Bestway. Now we're the biggest in the area."
If the extension plans pay off, the gap could widen.