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Listening to customers to succeed on Bayview

Businesses on any commercial strip come and go. It’s a fact of life. If you’ve operated on Bayview for a decent amount of time, you’ve seen the turnover first hand.

A common refrain from tenants who aren’t lucky enough to own the real estate on which they operate is that rents on the street remain high while traffic has declined as more businesses opt for Laird and environs.

Like most challenges in life, it’s not what happens to you that matters but rather how you react to this adversity.

Naeem Memon, who operates Refuel Juicery on Bayview, in my opinion is a classic example of how good business people figure out a way to make things work despite serious challenges to their business models. Adapt or die.

Memon opened his business in July 2014.

It wasn’t easy at first in part because a juice store right next to his current location had quickly opened and closed prior to him signing a lease. Residents were skeptical about his chances for success. People, they thought, don’t want to pay $10 for a cold-pressed juice. Not in Leaside.

But the entrepreneur didn’t let that bother him. Instead, he listened to what people had to say, whether it was positive or negative.

Customers wondered why the front service counter was set so far back in the store. My wife has 20-plus years in retail and she thought the store was closed because you couldn’t see the counter from the street. So Memon moved it closer to the front. A fellow Bayview business owner recommended he change his yellow light bulbs to white ones providing a much nicer light for customers.

Memon will openly tell you other examples of things he’s changed based on customer feedback. Nothing was off limits; most importantly, he didn’t take the comments and questions personally. He learned from them.

However, none of these changes might have mattered if not for a chance visit three months into opening his store, by an Ajax man who happened to know the manager of the McEwan specialty grocery store at the Shops at Don Mills.

What about wholesale? the man asked. Memon hadn’t considered this option when planning the store’s opening.

If he’d been too stubborn to remain open to this opportunity, he might have done his business permanent harm. But he ran with it; the man set up a meeting and today, McEwan, along with other wholesale accounts such as the Four Seasons Hotel, represent 40 percent of Refuel’s revenue.

But he didn’t stop there.

Eager to win over the younger demographic at Yonge and Eglinton, Memon opened a second store just north of the Royal Bank branch on Yonge St. Making healthy salads in that location combined with the cold-pressed juices made on Bayview, it’s about as much growth as he’s prepared to entertain right now.

At least, when it comes to brick-and-mortar retail.

And yet he still has something else up his sleeve that’s delivering much-needed revenue to cover the overhead from both retail locations. He’s opened an online store that delivers juice across the GTA to retail customers at retail prices. It’s a revenue stream that currently accounts for 10 percent of Refuel’s overall business.

While businesses such as Bite Me, which opened and closed on Bayview in less time than it takes to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks, fail to do what it takes to be successful, Memon continues to do whatever it takes to be a staple on the street for years to come.

Is his business perfect? He’d be the first to tell you absolutely not.

But, if you know somebody who’s opening, or thinking about opening, a store on Bayview, tell them to visit Memon at Refuel Juicery; he’s  a beacon of hope on a street struggling for an identity.