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Doing what come naturally to Dilip Kotecha of Quality Vitamins
By Bira

Read Time: 7 minutes


Doing what comes naturally

Twice named Scotland’s independent Health and Lifestyle Retailer of the Year, Dilip Kotecha of Quality Vitamins and Herbs in Glasgow believes in offering a huge selection of specialist products backed up with expert service.

Nine months on, Dilip Kotecha is still dealing with the aftermath of a disastrous fire at The Glasgow School of Art during the night of 15-16 June 2018.

What’s left of the historic building is about 100 yards from Dilip’s health foods and vitamins shop. The area was cordoned off after the fire and his shop was closed for a week. Some Glaswegians still think the district is a no-go area.

“We have to count ourselves lucky because some shops and cafes round here were compulsorily closed for three months,” says Dilip, philosophically. “We received compensation from the Scottish government and we have had a rates freeze for last year and this year, but the fact remains that ever since we reopened we have seen a 20% drop in people coming through the door. We have to hope that will change.”

Douglas Street is a side street that links the major routes of Bath Street with Sauchiehall Street. The area is dominated by commercial offices and a few eateries, but it is a good 10 minutes’ walk from the retailing centre of the city, which means passing trade is limited.

“We don’t open on Sundays because there are so few people round here at the weekend,” Dilip explains. “It certainly affects us when a large company moves from its offices near us. About 90% of our customers are regulars, but we have definitely lost some of them since the fire.”
It would be interesting to know where these people have gone for their vitamins and special-ist foods because Dilip and his small team offer a huge breadth of options, backed by knowledgeable and friendly service, that must be difficult to beat in the city.

Despite its slightly quaint name, Quality Vitamins and Herbs has evolved over the years into a business where 65% of sales comes from food, 30% from vitamins and other health products, with the rest from skincare products.

When Dilip and his wife Shobna bought the business in 1997, the shop looked appreciably different and had a different make-up. The busiest part of the business, which had been trading for about seven years, was a delicatessen and food counter at the front of the shop, which sold freshly-made soup and sandwiches at lunchtime to the many office workers in the area.

“The previous owner had been quite forward-looking as he was offering vegan options all those years ago, but it was very demanding to make all that fresh food every day. To get everything ready we had to start work at 2am or 3am in the morning to prepare the food at home,” recalls Dilip.

The Kotechas, who were customers of Quality Vitamins and Herbs, came to buy the business when Dilip learned from the owner that he wanted to return to his native Lebanon. A casual conversation turned into a business deal.

“I said to him that I wanted to work for four or five weeks – for free – just to get a feel for it. I immediately had a gut feeling that we could make the business better fairly easily.”

Dilip remembers the first four years as being a slog as he and Shobna kept the fresh food counter going while simultaneously learning about vitamins and health food products. When the local environmental health department insisted that the pair made costly changes to their fresh food preparation, the Kotechas went in a different direction.

“We had to get rid of the food counter, so we decided to remodel the shop totally. It was dull, dark and badly organised. We closed for two weeks as shopfitters transformed the shop. Our sales went up by 35% almost immediately.”

The result that still serves them today is an efficient and functional layout, with the impressive vitamins selection presented on beech units that comprise adjustable shelves and storage drawers at their base. There is virtually no storage space in the shop’s tiny back room.
Before buying Quality Vitamins, the pair’s retailing experience had been limited. Both brought up in the Asian communities of East Africa, Dilip and Shobna met after their families had relocated to the UK in the 1970s. While Shobna’s family had run stores in Kenya and later a supermarket in Essex, Dilip had worked in ATM development for NCR in Dundee.

Their first joint attempt at retailing was to run a Tie Rack franchise on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow. It was not a success, but despite that setback Dilip was attracted to the idea of a health food store as he felt a desire to assist people to feel better in themselves.
How well he has done in this field is shown by the Scottish Independent Retailer of the Year awards that are displayed on top of a chiller full of vegan products. This modest and quietly spoken man picked up the Health and Lifestyle Retailer of the Year accolade in 2016 and 2017 – and almost made it a hat trick last year.

Dilip is eager to praise his suppliers for their assistance in training staff and keeping stockists like him up to date with trends in the industry. He admits that he rarely misses a local seminar by a supplier like Solgar or Viridian even if it means giving up an evening.
Up until the financial recession of 2008-2009, vitamins and similar supplements accounted for 60% of the sales, with food making up the rest, but after the financial collapse sales of vitamins dropped off. Dilip and Shobna’s reaction was to look into new areas, so they went for three days to Biofach in Nuremberg, the world’s leading trade fair for organic goods.

Ten years on, the fruits of their research are seen in the vast selection of vegan products that Quality Vitamins offers. Like many health food shop veterans, Dilip is wryly amused by the large supermarkets jumping on to first the organic and now the vegan bandwagon, but it’s only in an independent like his that you will get a huge selection and the expert advice.

He prides himself on the service he and his small team provide. The comments on the store’s social media feed – Facebook is the main channel, with Instagram a minor part of the activity – shows how regulars appreciate the informed and unbiased opinions.
Analysing what’s made his business a success and admired by other health food stores across the country, Dilip points first of all to the breadth of his selection. Seemingly in almost every category, he stocks a wide range of options, whether it’s alternatives to milk or gluten-free cereals. He knows he cannot compete with the supermarkets on price, so he does not try. The average transaction per customer is £16.

“I sell natural yeast flakes at £3.50 a box, but Lidl will do it for £2.99. That 51p is a lot to some people, so I am going to lose them, but we win with the customers who shop with us because they like us. They know they could find something similar elsewhere if they looked for it, but they find everything here and, most importantly, they like what we do, what we stand for and the service we give.”

Another strand of Dilip’s approach is to source as much as possible from suppliers from across Scotland. He tells Bira magazine that Glasgow has about a dozen vegan restaurants, so there is a good community network in existence. Dundee-based Almighty Foods is a good example; Dilip has a fine selection of its alternative spreads on his shelves, including the likes of cashew caramel spread and raspberry whip gourmet nut butter. Shopping locally might make good sense after 29 March too – there has already been 7%-10% increases in the prices of German vegan products since the Brexit referendum result.

Dilip is in the shop at least five days a week, with Shobna, who organises the very efficient merchandising, appearing mainly at weekends. Their son Mitesh works part-time. The full-time shop manager and social media controller is Kirsteen Livingstone, a customer who worked there while she was a student and then returned as a regular member of staff.

Having celebrated his 70th birthday in January, Dilip is still full of ideas for the business. He is near to committing to install an Epos system – everything is managed manually – and he wants to add loose cereal dispensers to reduce pack-ageing. He was going on a four-week holiday in Australia shortly after Bira magazine’s visit and he was eager to tell us which health food stores he intended to check out Down Under.

123 Douglas Street, Glasgow G2 4HF
Under current ownership: Since 1997
Size of store: 750sq ft.
Staff: Owners + 1 full-timer and 2 part-timers
Shop opening hours: Mon-Sat 9.30am-6pm
Bira member since: 2018
Main suppliers include: (for vitamins) A Vogel, Nature’s Plus, Pukka Herbs, Solgar, Viridian; (for food & drink) CLF, Suma, The Green City, The Health Store, Tree of Life; (for skincare) Green People, Kinetic, Nature’s Dream, Weleda

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