John Wood finds out how independents are facing up to their most troublesome customers

The latest Retail Crime Survey from the British Retail Consortium (The Grocer, September 25, page 40) revealed a large increase in incidents of threats, abuse and violence towards retailers.
And, adding to the pressure on retailers, the government is planning to introduce on-the spot fines for retailers or their staff found selling drinks to under-age customers (The Grocer, September 18, p4). The police will also be able to fine minors who try to buy alcohol, or adults who buy it for them.
However, when The Grocer spoke to retailers at Crown Cash and Carry at Ruislip in London this week, it found a mix of opinions about such problems.
Karm Kahlon of Booze Unlimited at Hayes does not have a problem with rowdy customers. He says: “We are in a smart area and we don’t have a problem with customers. I’ve been here eight years and I know everyone. It’s three years since the last incident and that was not serious.”
But he is scathing about the plans for on-the-spot fines. “We are easy to catch, we are easy targets,” he says. “If someone is deliberately selling to under-age children constantly then they should be fined, but not for one single mistake.”
Because Kahlon knows his customers, he does not have a problem with under-age children trying to buy alcohol, but he says adults buying it for them are a problem and should be the ones targeted.
Arul Roobathas at Ramiy Enterprises, also in Hayes, has a lot of problem customers. He says: “There are nasty things going on all the time.”
Most problems occur when he refuses to sell products to under-age customers. In one case a youth refused cigarettes cut down the blinds outside his shop and then kicked in his windows. It cost an insurance excess of £250 plus it added about £500 to his premiums.
Gabria Singh at Western Cash and Carry in Southall says there are few problems although a gang has been distracting retailers and then stealing lottery cards.
He disagrees with the plan to fine retailers for sales to under-age customers, particularly if it is linked to test purchasing. “If they are going to send people in they should just give a warning. Anyone can make an honest mistake. They should give two chances before they fine.”
Prasan Patel says all his customers at the Waterside Post Office, Chesham, are well behaved. Having run the post office for 18 years, he knows all the families so children do not try to buy alcohol.
He is dismissive of plans for on-the-spot fines. “It is a gimmick. If they were serious about stopping under-age drinking they would put more bobbies on the beat.”