Full Name: Saifur Rahman
Grocery Name: Al Ali Grocery
Location: Al Wakra
bq: Tell us about your journey..
Saifur Rahman: After completing my secondary school certificate in Bangladesh, I came here with the help of my brother in 1993. He had a tailoring business in Madinat Khalifa and after bringing me here, I got involved in his business but I wasn’t particularly interested in it. Soon after, he arranged for a six-month training on cutting and sewing. But it turns out that I wasn’t a good tailor. There was no other way for me but to look for another opportunity and after trying desperately, I got the chance to join a utility where I worked for two years. Later, I joined a government company – Qatar Electricity and Water Department located at Abu Funtas where I worked for a few years. This company turned to QEWC (Qatar Electricity & Water Co.) later on and due to change of policy, many people lost their job – I was one of them.
Meanwhile, I saved a considerable amount of money and I decided to start a business. There were a number of businesses that seemed interesting and after a lot of research and effort, I finally found something I wanted to do – run a grocery. I informed my brother about my intention; he helped me, and finally, I ended up here. I started my journey with a grocery business in 1999 and since then, I have been wholeheartedly working to serve my customers.
bq: Who are your clients/customers and what items are available in your store?
SR: Mainly neighbouring dwellers are my customers; I sell fresh vegetables, fruits and the basics of everyday life.
bq: How many years did you take to break even? How is your business doing now?
SR: Well, the fact is, it’s not so easy to make a business profitable within a short span of time; it takes lots of effort, dedication and obviously, enough time. I had to work hard and till now the efforts are on. However, it took about about 3-4 years to break even, now everything is financially in line. My shop is running well; I know some of our regular customers by name, and I always feel good seeing new customers inside the store.
bq: Where do you source your raw materials from?
SR: Mainly, from local markets and also from agents of other countries like Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Whenever I am in need of goods, I call the suppliers, and they come to deliver the products.
bq: What challenges did you face while opening your business, and how did you overcome them?
SR: The challenge in starting this business is the financial aspect; I invested my own money to start this business, and I selected an affordable space to open the store. Luckily, my elder brother helped me overcome this problem.
bq: What challenges/difficulties do you currently face?
SR: I have definitely faced some challenges; I experienced a handful of non-payment problems. There are a few customers who take goods regularly from my shop and pay on a monthly basis. However, some customers went back to their home countries without paying their dues. I had a customer who was in crisis and I gave him a six-month grace period to pay up but he ultimately went back to his country without paying me anything.
bq: Do inspectors come regularly to check the validity of products and other safety requirements? Usually what do they do if they find any fault in the products?
SR: Of course, inspectors from the municipality come regularly to check all safety requirements, and that is done twice a month. If they find any expired products or other kinds of violations, a failure to meet health and safety requirements for instance, they usually destroy the expired stocks. Further, they close down the shop temporarily, or even permanently and take legal action depending on the seriousness of the offence. More interestingly, some people change the expiry dates of several consumer products and to prevent such manipulation, now it is mandatory to have the date of expiry directly on the product packets instead of on stickers.
bq: Have you ever been penalised for violation of safety requirements?
SR: No, I’ve never faced such a situation as I’m constantly aware of the rules. Besides this, I personally want to offer only quality products to my customers and hence make sure all products are checked on a daily basis.
bq: What do you do with the expired food?
SR: Usually, I send the products back to the suppliers, though fruits and vegetables cannot be returned.
bq: How do you see the competition? What do you do to cope/stay ahead of them?
SR: There are lots of shops nearby offering the same products. However, I always try to offer the best price combined with my pleasant behavior, and luckily, I have some regular customers who are comfortable coming to my shop.
bq: How do you finance yourself, what do you do when you need loans?
SR: I never go to banks for loans, I mentioned earlier that I invested all of my savings from my job and whenever I am in crisis, my brother supports me.
bq: Do you have any advice for those who want to enter this industry in Qatar?
SR: To succeed in this sector you have to be hard working. No matter what business you’re in, the primary focus always should be on customers, whose loyalty is crucial in these competitive markets.
bq: What are your future plans?
SR: It is still a small general store; I dream to have a big store in the future, and my other plan is to bring my family here. They have visited the country several times, but I would prefer if they’re here permanently and I am currently trying to sort out residence visas for them. I have two kids, and I wish to get them admitted in school here and give them a bright future.