For most people, studying for a law degree would offer enough stress to last a lifetime.

But for 24-year-old Harris Aslam, the last six years have seen him embark on the path of legal qualification while simultaneously launching an ambition business plan to “redefine convenience stores” with his firm Eros Retail.

His family have been in retail for nearly forty years. But rather than follow a well-worn path into the family business, Harris was determined to do things differently.

Alongside his cousin Raza he launched Eros Retail in 2014, aged just 18, with a vision to change the way that people viewed convenience stores in Scotland.

“We want our stores to offer a pleasant shopping experience -a clean store, big aisles- rather than the kind of convenience store displayed at Navid’s in Still Game. That stigma of a ‘Still Game’ store is going away, people are now seeing a difference between a convenience store and a traditional corner shop.” 

Eros Retail now owns eight stores across Scotland, a portfolio that has grown considerably since Harris launched his very first store near his home in Fife. But where does his law degree fit in?

“I thought that if I was going to enter the business world, having a legal background would give me a different perspective on things. It has been absolutely pivotal to have that- the law applies in pretty much everything we do, so having that underlying knowledge has been crucial. 

“There was a lot of juggling to do, but when you know what you want and your goals are clear -which for me they always have been- and you enjoy what you are doing, that makes it easier.”

Yet despite having his own legal training and being able to call on advice from family members with retail experience, Harris could hardly have picked a more challenging industry in which to try to make his mark.

Convenience retailers now face competition from supermarket giants, discounters like Lidl and Aldi, and a growing new range of online grocers and meal delivery companies.

But Harris is determined that “there is still life in convenience retail.”  
“We have had continual profit growth since 2014,” he explains, “and the key is just to keep moving with the times- if you don’t then the business won’t be there.”

Eros is innovating via its own online delivery service, focused around the local suppliers that are stocked in-store, which “snowballed” during lockdown to serve thousands of customers each week. 

Yet despite a growth in its online customer base, bricks and mortar stores are the still core of the Eros Retail business. But giving customers a reason to visit these stores is what proves challenging amid increased competition and -for some people- an increased anxiety about shopping in person.

“It’s about turning the store into a destination. You need to ask yourself what your point of difference is, why would people visit you rather than just go on their mobile, press a few buttons and have their shopping waiting for them when they get home from work? You need to give them a really good reason.”

One ‘reason’ that Harris gives his customers to visit in-store is his Skwishee self-serve frozen fizzy drink machines, a business he started back in 2017.

“The idea came about when we contacted a competitor who sells ice blast machines and we asked them if we could put their machine in our stores. Their response was very much that “we don’t do convenience”- so we created our own concept instead. And now Skwishee is driving footfall into our shops. 

“We started off stocking it in our own stores but we are now in about 120 different sites: the scale of growth is pretty exponential. We have a lot of national operators who are trialling with us, rolling out Skwishee into their stores.”

And with plans to open more Eros stores across Scotland, alongside the continued growth of Skwishee, it appears that life won’t be slowing down for Harris anytime soon.