The Entrepreneur Award
–supported by JTIM
Winner: Imran Ali & Sayiad Hamid, Bourtreehill Supermarket
Staff: 30, full and part time
Services: Quinn’s butchers counter, Quinn’s fast food counter, sit in cafe, Village Funhouse soft play centre, ice cream counter, Browning’s bakery.
- The nephew and uncle partnership of Imran and Sayiad have been involved in their family convenience retail business for several decades. But it was when they took over Bourtreehill Supermarket in 2017 that they began generating headlines.
- The large store in Irvine was left empty after the Co-op moved out of the area. Imran and Sayiad invested more than £100,000 to turn it into a modern supermarket – complete with its own sit-in cafe and soft play area for kids.
- Store manager Glenda Reilly used to work for the Co-op but was asked to come back by Sayiad and Imran. She has since been promoted to manager.
- Bourtreehill Supermarket frequently runs competitions and giveaways for the local community. The store also organise parties for children at Halloween and Christmas.
Pillars of the community
WHEN Imran Ali and Sayiad Hamid took on Bourtreehill Supermarket in 2017, they took a big risk.
The site had been abandoned by both the Co-op and an experienced independent retailer, with neither able to make the store a success.
But in the style of true entrepreneurs, Imran and Sayiad put their all into making the business flourish.
And it paid off: after investing more than £100,000 in the store and adjoining soft play area, they have undeniably breathed life back into this corner of Ayrshire.
“We just decided to take a chance,” said Imran, “but the shop has come on leaps and bounds compared to last year. Everything is up, chilled food, alcohol has came up from last year quite a bit.
“The food to go has exceeded our expectations. There is no passing trade here, it is an enclosed shopping centre, so we thought it wouldn’t be as busy – but the hot food does really well.
“The butchers more or less breaks even, but it is about providing the service for local people.”
Traditional butchery and bakery counters aren’t the only thing that Imran and Sayiad have brought back to Bourtreehill. The pair have also reintroduced a sense of community that was missing as the shopping precinct fell into decline.
The store literally does bring the whole community together
“The store literally does bring the whole community together. When the previous owners were in it, there were massive anti-social problems in the village centre. No one would come out late at night, there was a lot of loitering, rubbish, kids trying to get alcohol.
“And I would say it is now down by 95%. You won’t get anyone, you’ll just get pensioners walking by, families walking by at night time.
“My busiest time is 7pm-10pm, and that used to be my quietest time because no one would come out at night. So I’ve seen the change, and it’s all been a positive change.”
This force for good, driven by Imran and Sayiad, saw them presented with the Entrepreneur Award at the 2019 Scottish Grocer Awards.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing, with some serious competition now on the horizon.
Discounter Lidl has now announced plans to open a state-of-the-art store within a two-minute drive of Bourtreehill Supermarket.
When the plans were lodged, Imran acted immediately, drumming up a campaign of opposition among local businesses.
“I’m not just thinking about myself, there are Spars, Costcutters, KeyStores all around here that will be affected by it as well. I’ve personally sent letters to local stores telling them my concerns and trying to show them the bigger picture, even though they are my competitors.
“It will have a major knock-on effect. Lidl will undercut us, there is no way we can compete against Lidl,” he said.
Yet although it presents an undeniable threat to his business, Imran is confident that his strong relationship with the local community will see him weather any Lidl-induced storm.
“If it happens it happens, I’m not too worried because I feel I am a proactive retailer. The amount of money we have spent goes back into the community, so I’m sure the community will support us and look after us, because we have looked after them.
“We do free workshops for the kids, make your own slime classes, Halloween parties, Christmas parties, send a letter to Santa. Regular colouring competitions.
“They are all free except the slime, which there was a small charge for. Since we’ve opened we have given away 60-inch TVs, an Xbox, bikes, so it’s not just wee things.
“The woman who won the TV said her TV just broke the week before, and she was so relieved because she said she couldn’t afford a new one. I’ve given about £60,000 of prizes away. When you are in a deprived area, little things like that make a big difference,” he said.
But it’s not all down to Imran and Sayiad. Their employees recently gave them a ‘this is our happy place’ plaque, which is proudly on display in store. Would Imran say that the staff are a key part of the business?
We would never have won an award if it wasn’t for the staff.
“Definitely. We would never have won any awards if it wasn’t for the staff. The community engagement is all down to them as well.”
None more so than Glenda Reilly, the store manager at Bourtreehill Supermarket. When Imran and Sayiad got up to accept their Entrepreneur Award, Glenda shed a few proud tears, and her cheers were among the loudest in the ballroom.
“We’ve got a great team,” Glenda explained. “My wee boy is autistic, and if I need a change of shift at any point, the lassies will come in and help me. You wouldn’t get that anywhere else.
“I probably wouldn’t be able to do my job if it wasn’t for the staff in here, and for Imran and Sayiad. It is absolutely fantastic.
“I used to work for the Co-op, and I was held up by a guy with an axe. We were held up three times within a couple of months, so my husband was a bit concerned about me coming back here.
“But I don’t feel at all threatened. I don’t know if it is because Imran and Sayiad are so well known in this area, but we don’t have any trouble at all. If we have a shoplifter or anything like that, the customers are quite willing to tell you the name of whoever it is,” she said.
With happy staff and happy customers, it could be tempting for Imran and Sayiad to rest on their laurels. But instead, the pair have plans in motion to set up an online app, offering fast home deliveries within an hour of ordering.
“It was quite a big investment but the return on it should be exponential. There are a lot of places that do hot food deliveries, but none of them can offer alcohol, cigarettes, or things from the shop like toiletries,” Imran explained.
“So that gives me a wee point of difference from the other hot food establishments that do deliveries.”
Perhaps inspired by Sayiad and Imran’s innovations, North Ayrshire Council is also in talks to completely overhaul the shopping precinct in which their store is located, potentially knocking it down and building a brand new retail area.
“It is really good,” said Imran, “because it’s the first major regeneration since it was built. It is a once-in-30-years opportunity to improve the village centre, and the wider area. It could be as a result of us.”